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Illinois names Toledo’s Tim Beckman as new coach

Illinois is expected announce hiring Toledo coach Tim Beckman as its new football coach Friday. | J.D. Pooley~AP

Illinois is expected to announce the hiring of Toledo coach Tim Beckman as its new football coach on Friday. | J.D. Pooley~AP

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Updated: January 10, 2012 8:28AM

Toledo coach Tim Beckman is no home run. But after striking out or passing on more glamorous candidates, Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas will introduce Beckman as the Illini’s new football coach Friday.

If Beckman, 46, wins a few games and plays his two-point-conversion cards right, Illini Nation might settle for an opposite-field double off the wall.

Unlike hot Houston prospect Kevin Sumlin, an offensive guru who turned down an offer that might have approached $3 million a year to become Illinois’ first black football coach, the under-the-radar Beckman is a defense-oriented coach who has made steady progress in his third season with the Rockets.

Thomas wasn’t going for the splashy Mike Leach or other veteran coaches who might have baggage. He apparently was turned down by more people than Sumlin and Cincinnati coach Butch Jones, sources said.

Others weren’t given that opportunity. Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who might have made it possible to retain defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, lacked head-coaching experience. Larry Fedora? Apparently no interest there, either.

That left Beckman. Under hiring rules, Illinois was not permitted to offer Beckman the job until midnight. The school called a 3 p.m. news conference on Friday to introduce him.

Obviously, no contract details are out yet. But it wouldn’t be surprising if Beckman, who makes $410,000 at Toledo, receives a deal worth $1.5 million to $2 million a year at Illinois, in the ballpark with Ron Zook, who was making $1.75 million when Thomas fired him last month.

Beckman has his work cut out for him. Of the nine coaches at Illinois since Ray Eliot retired in 1959, only two have posted winning records: Mike White, who was forced out for recruiting misdeeds, and John Mackovic, who left for Texas.

Beckman fits all the tendencies of Thomas, who’s making his first important hire since coming to Illinois in August. He has head-coaching experience, he has the same Mid-American Conference roots as Thomas, he has contended for the championships Thomas craves and he dots the I’s and crosses the T’s.

The good: Beckman’s 21-16 record in three years at Toledo includes a 14-2 mark in the MAC the last two years. The Rockets also have landed the MAC’s top recruiting class the last two years.

In addition, Beckman is thorough and organized, and he has bonded well with his players at Toledo and at Oklahoma State, where he was defensive coordinator in 2007 and ’08.

‘‘When he became the defensive guy at Oklahoma State, he inherited a dysfunctional unit,’’ a Cowboys insider said. ‘‘They were terrible. He really stabilized the unit. He didn’t have the kind of personnel he needed, but he won some games for them. He’s a great organizer. And the players really loved him.’’

The bad: The Rockets are eighth in the nation in scoring (42.3 ppg), but 89th in points allowed (30.9) under their defense-oriented head coach, including back-to-back games in which they allowed 126 points, a 63-60 loss to Northern Illinois and a 66-63 win over Western Michigan.

How does that happen? A couple of defenders were injured. Another, Charles Rancifer, the hybrid linebacker/safety who plays the ‘‘star’’ position in Beckman’s 4-2-5 scheme, was suspended.

‘‘Their defense was terrible [against NIU],’’ a Rockets insider said. ‘‘They’d been banged up all year, and they had a couple of guys injured and one suspended.’’

People in Toledo are as stunned as many Illinois fans at the Beckman hire.

‘‘He hasn’t won anything yet,’’ the source said. ‘‘I don’t get why Illinois would want him right now, other than that they’re desperate.’’

The big question is recruiting.

‘‘Toledo is almost nonexistent in Chicago,’’ analyst Tom Lemming said.

So for Thomas, even a ‘‘safe’’ hire like this shapes up as risky.

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