Luke DeCock

Reprise: Tone-deaf second chance shows UNC has learned nothing — DeCock

Former Illinois coach Tim Beckman, right, talks with walk-on UNC football player Antonio James on Wednesday. Beckman is no longer a volunteer assistant on the coaching staff at North Carolina.
Former Illinois coach Tim Beckman, right, talks with walk-on UNC football player Antonio James on Wednesday. Beckman is no longer a volunteer assistant on the coaching staff at North Carolina. rwillett@newsobserver.com

ED. NOTE: This column was published online at 2:27 p.m. Thursday. By 7:14 p.m., the university announced that Tim Beckman had resigned.

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 PR guns, and has the university learned nothing?

Based on the fact that nobody stopped Larry Fedora from giving Tim Beckman another chance as part of his football staff – a profession from which he permanently disqualified himself when he mistreated injured players at Illinois – it’s clear there’s still no one minding the athletic store in Chapel Hill.

What’s next? Art Briles as Title IX coordinator?

North Carolina has spent millions to rehab its reputation, and no one stops the football coach from giving a volunteer assistant position to someone who represents everything that’s wrong with college football?

Fedora’s willingness to give an old friend a second chance is understandable, but misguided. The issue with Beckman is 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 make for a precipitous firing on winning alone. The issue with Beckman is that he couldn’t be trusted to act in the best interest of his players, the worst sin there is in college sports.

This isn’t giving a leg up to a guy who was unjustly fired. This is giving a leg up to a guy who was justly and appropriately fired and should never be part of college athletics again. The fact that he’s a volunteer who won’t work with athletes at North Carolina doesn’t make it acceptable. He has forfeited his right to be a coach of any kind, even in a limited role that doesn’t even entitle him to that title.

If Fedora wants Beckman to paint Fedora’s house, sell him insurance, go in on real-estate deals with him, tutor his kids – any or all of that is OK. Let him answer the phones. There are many ways Fedora can help his old friend without putting him on his staff.

Fedora says it’s 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 says it’s OK, there’s another side to the story.

It must be a heck of a tale.

Even if Beckman deserved a second chance in this business – and he doesn’t; he has lost the right to ever call himself, in the worst coachspeak vernacular, “a Leader of Men” – 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.

Is anyone paying attention now?

“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 supervising 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 college athletics again is a television screen. And it won’t blow over, either, not with North Carolina visiting Illinois this season.

Fedora should know that. Bubba Cunningham should know that. Carol Folt should know that. The fact that none of them seems to know that makes you wonder if North Carolina has learned anything at all.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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