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Illini football team catches a rising star in Tim Beckman

CORRECTS DATE - Tim Beckman left laughs as he is introduced by athletic director Mike Thomas during press conference as

CORRECTS DATE - Tim Beckman, left, laughs as he is introduced by athletic director Mike Thomas during a press conference as the new Illinois football coach at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill., Friday, Dec. 9, 2011. Beckman replaces Ron Zook, who was fired last month after seven seasons. (AP Photo/The News-Gazette, Darrell Hoemann)

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Updated: January 11, 2012 8:11AM

21-16 record in three seasons
at Toledo, Tim Beckman might not have been Illinois’ first choice. But he sure looked like a good choice when he was introduced by athletic director Mike Thomas as the Illini’s new football coach Friday.

Beckman molded a big-time defense at Oklahoma State. In the last two seasons, he has reeled in the top recruiting class in the Mid-American Conference and has gone 14-2 against MAC foes.

The son of a college coach and NFL personnel executive, Beckman, 46, loves to coach and lives to coach.

‘‘I’m excited, honored and privileged,’’ he said, sporting a brand-new orange tie. ‘‘I’m a blessed football coach. I was raised in this profession.
Every waking minute of my life, I’ve been around football.’’

Beckman, who was paid $410,000 a year at Toledo, agreed to a five-year, $9 million deal, plus incentives, or $1.8 million a year. That’s a tad more than the $1.75 million of his predecessor, Ron Zook, but less than Illinois would have needed to lure Houston’s Kevin Sumlin, Boise State’s Chris Peterson or Cincinnati’s Butch Jones.

‘‘You can have coaches that might win a press conference, that make a big splash with their name,’’ Thomas said. ‘‘But at the end of the day, it’s about finding someone who wants to be here and build a program. We’re nowhere near our ceiling. Like Tim said, he’s all about winning championships.’’

If Beckman was a year or two away from becoming a hot commodity, nobody
remembers that Notre Dame defensive coordinator Barry Alvarez was Wisconsin’s third choice when given the opportunity to turn the slumbering Badgers into a Big Ten giant.

‘‘This is a gold mine. You can win at the University of Illinois,’’ Beckman said, his voice booming and his face beaming.

‘‘This is a guy that makes caffeine nervous,’’ Thomas joked about his outgoing and enthusiastic new hire.

Beckman winced, though, when asked about Toledo’s 63-60 loss this season to Northern Illinois.

‘‘That was tough, but no excuses. We didn’t play well,’’ said Beckman, who suspended a key player from a defense that already was banged up. ‘‘We also need to make two-point conversions. If we make our two-point conversions, we win 64-63.’’

That was a joke. But Beckman is serious about winning. Seven of Illinois’ last nine coaches have endured losing records, but he is undeterred.

‘‘Honestly, I didn’t even look into that,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘It’s a new era. And there’s tradition here. There’s been great players here. We’re just going to do what’s been successful for us.’’

That means relentless
recruiting to lure players and earnest care-taking once they’re on campus.

‘‘He’s going to go after it,’’ said Beckman’s wife, Kim, who makes lasagna every Thursday for a personnel group, up to 15 players each week. ‘‘He doesn’t like to lose. He’s really not much fun around the house when he does lose. So we’ll make sure we win here.’’

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