Illinois hires Toledo's Tim Beckman

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Tim Beckman has rebuilt a program before.

He inherited a mess when he took over at Toledo, where the Rockets had finished three straight losing seasons and were in the middle of a point-shaving scandal.

At Illinois, the 46-year-old Beckman isn't walking into a gambling crisis but there are steep hills ahead.

The Illini are in the middle of a six-game losing streak that has given them an unwanted place in the record books. Much of an already unhappy fan base seemed initially underwhelmed by Beckman's hiring. And one university trustee complained the school missed a chance to hire its first black head football coach.

But Beckman, coming from a MAC school where resources are limited and the Rose Bowl isn't a possibility, insisted Friday that what's ahead of him isn't a rebuilding project.

"It's not broken, it isn't," he told reporters after meeting with Illinois' players. "This is a gold mine. You can win at the University of Illinois."

Beckman will be paid $9 million over five years plus potential bonuses for bowl appearances and other benchmarks.

He replaces Ron Zook, who was fired last month by athletic director Mike Thomas after seven seasons. Illinois started this season 6-0, but carries that six-game losing streak into the Dec. 31 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA. The Illini are the first FBS team to open the regular-season with six straight wins, and close it with six consecutive losses.

Thomas said he hired Beckman from a field of five or six serious candidates -- he wouldn't name the others -- because he believes he can win Big Ten titles. The athletic director, answering questions about fans on local talk radio and Internet message boards who said Beckman wasn't a big enough name, said he heard much the same at the University of Cincinnati, where he hired a pair of MAC coaches that produced consistent winners, Brian Kelly, now at Notre Dame, and current Bearcats coach Butch Jones, whose team is 9-3 this season.

"They all said `Who's Brian Kelly?' They all said `Who's Butch Jones.'" Thomas said. "I get that."

Beckman said he agreed to come to Illinois only Friday morning. In three seasons at Toledo he was 21-16. The Rockets went 8-4 this season and will play in the Military Bowl against Air Force. Toledo offensive coordinator Matt Campbell will coach the Rockets pending a national search for Beckman's replacement.

Rockets athletic director Mike O'Brien said Beckman's move to a Big Ten school didn't surprise him.

"It's a credit to Tim Beckman," he said. "It's also a credit to the University of Toledo."

Beckman was hired in Toledo in 2008. The school was in the middle of a point-shaving investigation involving football and basketball games from 2003-06. Three former football players pleaded guilty. One player admitted accepting $500 to fumble the ball in a 2005 bowl game.

The Rockets were 5-7 in Beckman's first season but finished 8-5 in his second and earned a trip to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

His Toledo teams have always been able to score; the Rockets averaged 42.3 points this season, best in the MAC and eighth nationally. They averaged better than 200 yards a game in both rushing and passing.

Beckman said Friday he'll run a spread at Illinois. He added that he'll try to bring Campbell to Champaign, and has asked the NCAA for a waiver, like the one given to Ohio State, to allow him to add extra coaches to recruit while current assistants prepare for the bowl.

He said he'll meet current staff members before deciding whether to try to keep any of them.

Toledo also gave up big points under Beckman -- 30.9 a game this season. In back-to-back weeks in November, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan torched the Rockets for 63 points, though Toledo lost only one of those games.

Beckman said his team was missing one defensive starter to injury and another to suspension for those games and lacked the depth to make up for it.

"It was tough," he said. "We didn't tackle well."

Beckman said he'll recruit the state of Illinois heavily, noting Toledo rosters had many players from Ohio.

He is considered a strong recruiter, but has very little history in Illinois, Chicago-based recruiting expert Tom Lemming said.

"They're much more comfortable recruiting Ohio and Detroit," Lemming said of Beckmann and his staff at Toledo.

Beckman came to Toledo from Oklahoma State, where he spent two seasons as defensive coordinator.

He's also been an assistant at Western Carolina, Elon, Bowling Green -- where he was Urban Meyer's defensive coordinator -- and Ohio State. Beckman coached the Buckeyes' cornerbacks in 2005 and `06.

On Friday Beckman called Meyer a mentor, and said he looks forward to coaching against him.

"I can't wait," he said. "Urban and I are great, great friends."

When Zook was fired, university trustee James Montgomery said Friday that he'd hoped the school would hire its first black head football coach.

"I'd hoped we would make a little history," said Montgomery, who is black.

The field of reported candidates included at least one black coach, highly sought-after Houston coach Kevin Sumlin.

Thomas said he hired Beckman from what he called "a very diverse pool."

Zook was fired the day after a 27-7 loss at Minnesota.

He came to Illinois in 2005 from Florida and went 34-51, finishing with two winning seasons; a win at the Fight Hunger Bowl would give Illinois its third in seven years. He took Illinois to the 2008 Rose Bowl, a loss to USC that came during the Illini's first trip to Pasadena since the 1980s, and to last year's Texas Bowl, where Illinois defeated Baylor.

But Zook also barely survived the 2009 season, a three-win campaign that led to the firing of most of his staff. Special teams, which he personally coached, were often bad. Recruiting had fallen off the past couple of seasons.

The bottom line, as Thomas pointed out just after he fired Zook: The Illini won just under a third of their Big Ten games under Zook, and had a winning conference record over that period against only Indiana.

Illinois paid Zook $2.6 million for the two years left on his contract.