Tim Beckman is gone from the North Carolina football program, which is only right. He never should have been there in the first place.
Even though the entirely avoidable situation was resolved Thursday night when Beckman resigned from his volunteer assistant position, apparently at chancellor Carol Folt’s instigation, the misstep raises serious questions about Larry Fedora’s judgment and how closely anyone at North Carolina is paying attention to what’s going on in athletics.
It was a bad decision by Fedora to offer a volunteer assistant job to his old friend Beckman, who permanently disqualified himself from the profession when he mistreated injured players at Illinois. It was a worse decision by athletic director Bubba Cunningham to approve it. Fedora then magnified the damage when he defended the decision Wednesday in a tour de force of misdirection and arrogance.
The issue with Beckman was not that he “didn’t win enough games,” as Fedora blithely put it, implying that you can do just about anything if you win enough games. (Does Fedora think he has?) Beckman went from two to four to six wins with a moribund program, which would be a precipitous firing on that basis alone. The issue with Beckman was that he couldn’t be trusted to act in the best interest of his players, the worst sin there is in college sports.
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And still, Fedora and Cunningham plunged ahead. All the time the University of North Carolina has spent digging out from under scandal, all the reforms trumpeted as progress, all the money spent on lawyers and consultants and hired guns, and no one stopped the football coach from giving a spot on his staff to someone who represents everything that’s wrong with college football? It took 24 hours of external scrutiny and the chancellor’s intervention?
“When I first learned yesterday that Coach Larry Fedora had invited former Illinois head coach Tim Beckman to serve as a volunteer with the football program, I was surprised and disappointed,” Folt said in a prepared statement Thursday. “The decision for Mr. Beckman to withdraw from his volunteer position was the right thing to do, and moving forward I don’t expect this situation to recur.”
Even if Beckman deserved a second chance in this business, which he does not, surely there’s a better place to do it than North Carolina, which is still in the gazillion-dollar process of rehabbing a reputation as a school where just about everything that can go wrong with college athletics – agents paying players, a coach acting as a runner for agents, decades of academic fraud – went wrong because no one was paying attention.
Fedora said Wednesday everything was OK because Beckman’s side of the story is different. But there’s no he-said, she-said here. This isn’t a nuanced discussion about contested principles and values. A university-commissioned law firm found Beckman ignored player injuries, interfered with medical staff, mocked and verbally abused injured players among other transgressions. The report makes for nauseating reading.
“The line between aggressive coaching and inappropriate influence regarding medical decisions may be difficult to define precisely,” the report reads, “but it was clearly and systematically crossed under Coach Beckman’s leadership.”
It cost Beckman and his athletic director their jobs. But Fedora said there’s another side to the story. Beckman must have spun a heck of a tale.
“I know (criticism is) going to happen, and then a couple of days from now it won’t be news,” Fedora said Wednesday. “I mean, I promise you, I didn’t see anywhere where the NCAA said that he should be banished from the game of football.”
Well, there’s one breaking development to come out of this: Someone at North Carolina acknowledged the NCAA has a role to play in college sports.
No court convicted Beckman of anything, either. So what? It doesn’t take more than an ounce of common sense to realize the closest Beckman should ever come to an athlete again is a television screen.
Fedora should have known that. Cunningham should have known that. The only thing Fedora got right is that it won’t be news in a couple of days.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock