As we continue to try and process the news from earlier this afternoon that head coach Tim Beckman has been fired amidst the ongoing investigation surrounding player mistreatment, it is also important to look at the man who hired him. Athletic director Mike Thomas has been taking a lot of heat for the moves he has made recently, and rightly so. Let's quickly review his tenure over the past 365 days:
The basketball program hasn't reached the NCAA tournament in almost three years under head coach John Groce (a Thomas hire), and forward Darius Paul was just dismissed from the team. That's after guards Aaron Cosby and Rayvonte Rice were suspended (and Cosby dismissed) following a violation of team rules. The women's basketball coach, Matt Bollant (another another Thomas hire), was under investigation for racism and mistreatment towards his players. That story was turned into an hour-long investigative report that aired on CNN. The soccer program fell under similar accusations of abuse and mistreatment as well. To put it mildly, it hasn't been a banner year for Thomas, and the hires he has made are looking more and more sub-par by the day.
But following today's news, his hot seat goes from "toasty" to "boiling." Former offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic was the first to publicly speak out about the allegations surrounding Beckman, but if you remember, Thomas was reluctant to instigate any type of outside investigation until he was forced to. And after he finally agreed to conducting one, he didn't want to share the results of the report publicly. Today's dismissal of Tim Beckman only puts further pressure on the University to take a good long look at Mike Thomas and his future as athletic director. The findings of the investigation (which are still ongoing, by the way) were bad enough that Thomas decided the only course of action was to let Beckman go a week before the season began. Here are some of the highlights of the things Thomas said during his press conference this afternoon:
Thomas on his own job security: "I am confident in the program that I am leading. I know that there will always be obstacles and adversity along the way. I am appreciative at the people we have working in the DIA."
Thomas on other potential staff changes: "At this point in time, none of the other coaches have been implicated in the investigative review."
Thomas on when he received the preliminary report: "I was shocked and angry when I became aware of what had happened."
Thomas on the players' reactions: "It was a quiet group when I told the players. It came as a great surprise. They're still digesting it."
Thomas on the culture at Illinois: "I still think the culture in the DIA is tremendous. I believe in our coaches, our players, and our staff. This is a wonderful place full of wonderful people."
Thomas on searching for a new coach: "There's a formal process of starting a coaching search. More than likely you're a few months away from that."
Thomas on his decision to let Beckman go: "This was my call."
But in a way this only makes everything Thomas has said and done over the past calendar year look even worse. He constantly voiced his support for Beckman up until today.
As more details begin to trickle out about how it all went down today in Champaign, fans can't help but wonder how much longer Mike Thomas will be employed as the athletic director. This, for example, does not reflect very well on the way Thomas handled delivering the news to the players this morning:
Players asked if they could meet Beckman for closure. Thomas said he didn't have anything set. Players said they haven't heard from Beckman— Taylor Rooks (@TaylorRooks) August 28, 2015
Many players telling me they believe they should get a final talk with Beckman.— Taylor Rooks (@TaylorRooks) August 28, 2015
Illinois is in such a Champaign-bubble that they have no idea how ridiculous a spectacle this is. Mike Thomas is still empowered.— Dan Bernstein (@dan_bernstein) August 28, 2015
Mike Thomas still has a job. He gets to hire the next coach. Oh, and Beckman's staff is still in charge. Illinois is a total joke right now.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) August 28, 2015
Illinois took no questions from the phone for AD Mike Thomas. I had a few.— Shannon Ryan (@sryantribune) August 28, 2015
Bill Cubit will become the interim coach for the 2015 campaign, but if you are the head honchos at the University of Illinois I ask you one simple question: how can you let Mike Thomas, an AD who's time in Champaign has been riddled with losing, scandals, and investigations, make the hire for the next head football coach? And if you're a prospective coach who might be interested in the job, how can you feel comfortable being hired by an AD who might soon be let go? If we're going to wipe it away and start this rebuild all over again with a totally clean slate, the University needs to actually clean house. That started today with the dismissal Tim Beckman, and that should continue with the dismissal of Mike Thomas in the near future.