As allegations swirl around Illinois football, Beckman touts focus

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  • Illinois' head coach Tim Beckman watches the game against Ohio State at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. The Illini lost 55-14.

By Michal Dwojak, Staff writer

CHICAGO — Illinois head football coach Tim Beckman approached the podium on the first day of Big Ten Media Days in Chicago with questions to answer. The fourth-year coach met with the media for the first time since player allegations of abuse and medical mistreatment were made public in May.

In his 15-minute session, while Beckman received numerous questions about his coaching style and general questions about the allegations, he didn’t dive into specifics because the investigation is ongoing. Beckman instead took every question he faced and turned the audience’s attention to the Illini’s Sept. 4 season opener against Kent State.

“You handle it and focus on the future,” Beckman said. “You focus on your current football team. You respect what other people might be saying, but you focus on making this team better.”

Allegations surfaced in May when former offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic tweeted several accusations of player abuse and injury mistreatment at the hands of Beckman. Several other former players at Illinois and Toledo — where he was the head coach before coming to Illinois — have come out against Beckman. The claims forced the University to hire a Chicago law firm to independently investigate the allegations.

Current players have been supportive of the coach during the summer. Although there hasn’t been an official meeting between the coaches and the players about the allegations, players have met with each other to talk about the situation and voice their support for the head coach.

The allegations came as a shock to many players, including to Cvijanovic’s former roommate, Ted Karras, one of three Illini representatives in Chicago on Thursday. The two offensive linemen talked the Wednesday before the tweets were sent and Cvijanovic didn’t give Karras any indication that he was going to use social media to voice his concern for himself and for his teammates.

Karras responded to the accusations on Twitter with a tweet but then decided that he wouldn’t continue on with the argument. He felt it was his responsibility as a team captain to protect the program when its leader was attacked, but he also knew that continuing the argument would only create trouble.

The two haven’t spoken since the incident and Karras hasn’t made an attempt to reach out to Cvijanovic since the former offensive lineman attacked the team.

“I feel bad for coach and the program, as far as we just get painted in a negative light coming off such a positive year,” Karras said. “It’s been something we’ve tried to accomplish since Beckman got here.”

Beckman reiterated his open-door policy when questions about Cvijanovic arose. He said he wanted his players to know that they could approach him with any trouble they might come across. Athletic Director Mike Thomas said he had no indication of when the investigation would conclude but said that the program was cooperating in any way it could.

Players and coaches start preseason camp on Aug. 5. Beckman said he will continue to answer questions until a conclusion is reached. Until then, his goal is for his Illini to concern themselves solely with facing the Golden Flashes in their season opener.  For now, Beckman knows he has the support of his players, his family and other coaches around the league.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Beckman said of the support he’s received from coaches around college football. “This is a profession but it’s also a brotherhood … I’m proud to be in the profession, I’m proud to be the Illinois Fighting Illini head football coach and I’m proud we’re continuing and making better strides.”

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