Two votes against Tim Beckman hire
Two University of Illinois board of trustee members voted against the appointment of football coach Tim Beckman on Thursday, citing their disappointment with the lack of African-American men's basketball and football head coaches hired by the school.
Beckman's contract was approved by 10 of the 12 trustee members in Chicago on Thursday, according to spokesperson Thomas Hardy. James Montgomery and Lawrence Oliver II were the two trustees to vote against the appointment because Illinois has never hired an African-American men's basketball or football head coach. Beckman is white.
"I think over years and decades a fair process should produce some diversity in those high-profile positions, and it just hasn't happened," Oliver II said on Friday. "The vote more than anything was to bring some attention to the fact, 'Listen, there are a lot of qualified African-Americans in these two major college sports. For some reason, we've never done it.' I wanted folks to be mindful of that. My vote was essentially to raise the awareness of it and hopefully more thought will be put into future considerations."
Illinois' first-year athletic director Mike Thomas was reported to have interviewed Kevin Sumlin and Kirby Wilson, both African-Americans, for the football head coaching position. Thomas has never confirmed publicly who he interviewed or offered the job other than Beckman.
"I know it's been reported Kevin Sumlin had received an offer," Oliver II said of the former Houston coach who was hired by Texas A&M in December. "If there is a prospect that we want to go after, we have to go after it aggressively. We do that in other high-profile positions. It's rarely done with one offer and an acceptance. It's done with a give and take. That's kind of the signature of recruiting people in demand. I think that kind of pursuit was absent here in the pursuit of Sumlin."
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Thomas declined to comment through a spokesperson on Friday.
Hardy said the two no votes were not directed at Beckman, who was hired in December after three seasons at Toledo.
"They were not directed at the quality of coach Beckman," Hardy said. "They were more along the lines of the process and how good of an effort [was made to find] an African-American coach."
Thursday's vote was the first on a men's basketball or football head coach for Montgomery and Oliver II. Montgomery was appointed to the board in 2007, and Oliver II in 2009.
Illinois has African-American head coaches in women's basketball (Jolette Law) and women's track and field (Tonja Buford-Bailey).
Beckman's approved contract runs from Dec. 9, 2011, through Jan. 31, 2017, and includes a yearly salary of $1.6 million.
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.