CHAMPAIGN — Illinois coach Tim Beckman said he was proud of the way his coaches fought during the Illini’s 60-35 loss to Ohio State.
He didn’t mention if that pride extended to when coaches fought each other.
All things considered, the Illini (3-7, 0-6 Big Ten) actually played a decent game — by their standards — Saturday against the No. 3 Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0).
But a sideline scuffle between Beckman and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit after the Illini surrendered a safety during the third quarter overshadowed that.
ESPN cameras caught the two yelling at each other while assistant coaches separated them. After the incident, cameras showed them chatting without anger.
“I’m the head football coach and it goes on my shoulders,” Beckman said. “Me and Bill have gotten along forever and I respect Bill. He does a great job with what we’ve done and I put that (argument) on my shoulders.”
The inevitable Twitter explosion occurred, with gifs and video clips of the segment making the rounds on various websites and blogs.
The fracas started after quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was forced out of the game because his helmet came off. By rule, he is required to sit out a play. Backup Reilly O’Toole entered and after a false start penalty was sacked and fumbled in Illinois’ end zone.
The Illini recovered for the safety that gave Ohio State a 37-21 lead with 4 minutes, 59 seconds left in the third quarter. The Buckeyes then scored four plays later to complete a 58-second drive to make it 44-21.
As expected, both Beckman and Cubit downplayed the incident — although Beckman said such an incident never had happened before in his career while Cubit said he has seen many coaches altercations like it.
“It’s in the game, that’s the way it is. Everybody’s out there competing,” Cubit said. “You’d be shocked at how many times … it just happens. You get caught up. It’s one of those things.
“There’s no dysfunction over our side. I’m not saying there’s dysfunction anywhere else. I think the kids are taking on the personality of this offensive staff, they’re fighting and battling.”
That they did. The defense could not stop Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller (150 yards passing, 184 yards rushing) and Carlos Hyde (248 yards, four touchdowns) but the offense, seemingly unaffected by the fight, kept the Illini hanging around. The Illini were down 12 with the ball and 6:44 on the clock. It was a sign of progress after miserable home blowouts at the hands of Michigan State and Wisconsin earlier this season.
“You get into the game and everything gets heated, so we understand,” receiver Miles Osei said. “They’re competitors and we’re competitors.”
But could such a public squabble undermine Beckman’s effort to sell his program as progressing in the right direction? All the talk of frustration on the team not boiling over might sound hollow and set a bad example when two coaches exchange heated words on the sideline.
“Immediately on the sidelines we talked about it and got it straight,” Beckman said. “I don’t think our offense quit, they continued to fight even after that situation occurred.”
It remains to be seen if it would have been better for all involved if it didn’t occur at all.