North Carolina coach Larry Fedora on Wednesday defended a curious and criticized decision to hire Tim Beckman as a volunteer assistant nearly one year after Illinois fired Beckman for the mistreatment of injured players.
Beckman lost his head coaching job at Illinois weeks before the start of the 2015 season, after a university-commissioned investigation found that he pressured trainers and medical staff to downplay injuries. The investigation also concluded he mocked injured players and accused them of weakness.
Since his firing Beckman had been out of coaching until resurfacing at UNC weeks ago, at the start of preseason practice. Fedora and Beckman, who worked together at Oklahoma State in 2007, are friends.
In his volunteer role at UNC, Beckman will not work with players. He is not a coach, but an assistant to the defensive coaching staff, and Fedora said Beckman would assist the staff in breaking down film and scouting opponents.
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Still, Beckman’s role at UNC, which became public after the Champaign (Ill.) News-Gazette reported on Tuesday that UNC had hired him as a volunteer, has raised questions. Foremost among them: Why has Fedora hired someone, even as a volunteer assistant, who was found to mistreat players?
Fedora on Wednesday after practice reiterated that Beckman’s duties don’t include coaching. Fedora also defended Beckman and implied that the reports detailing the reasons behind Beckman’s firing might have been inaccurate.
“I don’t believe everything I read, all right,” Fedora said. “I know Tim. I know his side of the story, also. So I was comfortable with it. If I wouldn’t have been, obviously I wouldn’t have brought him. I wouldn’t have allowed him to be in our program.
“But I was very comfortable with it. I don’t have any issues with it at all.”
Beckman was the head coach at Illinois for three seasons, from 2012 through 2014. The Illini’s win total improved each of those three seasons – from two victories, to four, to six – but eventually some of Beckman’s players began to question his aggressive coaching style.
The investigation that led to Beckman’s dismissal found several instances of abusive behavior. In one instance Beckman dismissed a player’s concussion symptoms and told him “that he was going to be fine.”
Another time, according to the Chicago Tribune, Beckman ordered a player who’d suffered a potential spinal injury to face him so that Beckman could “tell the player that he was going to be fine.” Beckman also told players, according to the investigation, that he didn’t believe in hamstring injuries.
Illinois and Beckman agreed to a $250,000 settlement after Beckman threatened to sue the school for after being fired, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Beckman watched UNC practice on Wednesday. He wore a white UNC pullover, a visor and orange-tinted sunglasses. He’s allowed to travel with the team and be on the sideline during games, Fedora said, but it’s unclear whether Beckman will do so.
UNC plays at Illinois on Sept. 10. It’s unclear whether Beckman will make that trip. Fedora said he sought, and received, approval from Bubba Cunningham, the UNC athletic director, before hiring Beckman as a volunteer assistant.
Asked whether he could understand the criticism of adding Beckman to his staff, Fedora said he could.
“And I know (criticism is) going to happen, and then a couple of days from now it won’t be news,” Fedora said. “I mean, I promise you, I didn’t see anywhere where the NCAA said that he should be banished from the game of football. You know?
“I mean, the guy didn’t win enough games. That’s all it was.”