18 holes with … Tim Beckman

Illini football coach brimming with positive energy despite 2-10 debut season

The second-year Illinois football coach after golfing at Olympia Fields Country Club.

Tim Beckman faced a dilemma on the 14th hole at Olympia Fields' North Course: lay up or try to fly it 160 yards from the right rough to clear the scrub area.

"You know me," the Illinois football coach said. "I'm not going to play it dang short."

At least not by design.

This rough was not swallowing balls like it did 10 years ago during the U.S. Open, won by Jim Furyk. But for a football coach who visits the driving range as often as he punts on third down, it could be unforgiving.

Beckman swung and immediately said, "That's short."

But he had no regrets about his decision, saying, "I had to try it."

You could snicker and say what transpired was emblematic of Beckman's first year in Champaign, which was characterized by missteps both literal (he fell on his keister at Northwestern, drawing an interference penalty) and figurative (he was caught chewing tobacco during the Wisconsin game, an NCAA no-no).

But the misery of a 2-10 season has not sapped his positive energy. A friend texted him recently to say Barry Alvarez went 1-10 in his first season at Wisconsin. Three years later, he was smelling roses.

What also gives Beckman hope is a revamped staff that includes two who rounded out our foursome: offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, who grew up in Philadelphia and played streetball with Vince ("Invincible") Papale, and defensive line coach Greg Colby.

"Huge" is how Beckman described the hires. "Cubes has been a head coach. Colby has Big Ten experience. Nothing against the guys (they replaced). Last year was all of our faults. It was my fault."

Beckman came to Chicago last week as part of the Fighting Illini Caravan. The schedule originally called for an attention-grabbing reception in Evanston he had no role in planning.

"I had no idea," he said. "I'm not sure if Michigan has (events) in East Lansing."

I wore an orange hat and joked that had I chosen the color of my alma mater, Northwestern, Beckman might have tried to bench me. In an effort to ratchet up the in-state rivalry, Beckman puts injured players in purple beanies during workouts.

"We had 22 guys out at one practice last year," he lamented.

OK, enough football talk. After all, it is May.

Beckman arrived for the 10:10 tee time — that's 10 o'clock in his beloved "Illini time" — and made no secret about the caliber of his game. Approaching Tribune photographer Zbigniew Bzdak, he asked, "Is this who I have to pay off?"

He later said of Illinois golf coach Mike Small, who has made 15 cuts on the PGA Tour, "As great as he does with his program, he'd probably have to tutor me for over a year (straight) to get me good."

And after mentioning that he played at TPC Sawgrass, site of this weekend's Players Championship, he said he got a "6 or 7" on No. 17, the island-green par-3. "That's the number of balls I lost."

Beckman played almost everything but golf while growing up. He ran track, played baseball and cut weight in the presence of legendary wrestling coach Dan Gable. Ask him what position he played in football, and this is the enthusiastic response: "Outside 'backer. We ran the wide-tackle 6."

There are two subjects Beckman could talk about from dawn till dusk: football and family.

He reveres his father, Dave, whose coaching and front office career took him from Iowa to Lamar (Tim played high school ball in Beaumont, Texas) to the Cleveland Browns to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL. Tim moved a half-dozen times before attending the University of Findlay in Ohio.

"I loved watching Dad — going to practice every day, setting up the (tackling) dummies, fielding punts," he said.

It's no coincidence you can find a "TD" in Timothy Daniel Beckman, whose oldest son is named Tyler David. Daughter Lindsay avoided a football-themed moniker, and Tim said he wanted his youngest son to be named Tanner. But wife Kim opted for Patrick Alexander, calling him Tim's "Point After."

"That's who she is," Beckman said, marveling at the ideal football coach's wife. "She doesn't know if the ball is stuffed or blown up, but she makes birthday cakes for all the players."

Beckman's round also ended with a celebration. He hit the flagstick on a 30-yard chip to make par on the 18th.

He did not leave it dang short.

tgreenstein@tribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

Five-second bio: The second-year Illinois football coach counts Urban Meyer, Mike Gundy and Jim Tressel among his mentors.

Where: Olympia Fields Country Club, North Course (member regular tees: 6,605 yards).

Beckman's handicap: He has played only one full round over the last three years.

What he shot: 102.

Scouting report on his game: "I can't hit the irons."

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