Cubit tries to focus on football amid Illinois uncertainty

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Next up for Bill Cubit is Illinois' season opener against Kent State, and that's it. The interim coach is focused on what he can control at the troubled school.

Cubit takes over for Tim Beckman after he was fired a week before the primetime game against the Golden Flashes. An ongoing investigation found Beckman tried to influence medical decisions and pressure players to play with injuries; he denies the allegations and could take legal action.

Now Cubit faces the difficult task of preparing his team for the upcoming season at a university where instability has become the rule.

''I don't worry about three months from now, I don't worry about two months from now, I worry about today,'' Cubit said Friday afternoon, hours after Beckman was fired.

Athletic director Mike Thomas said hiring a new coach could be months away.

The power structure at the university could have a much different look by the time that move is finalized.

Two top administrative positions are open after a pair of unexpected resignations, and two lawsuits related to other sports - both of which name Thomas as a defendant - remain to be litigated.

Beckman was headed into his fourth season at Illinois. Thomas said he consulted with interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson, but it was his decision to let Beckman go.

Wilson took over after Phyllis Wise resigned right before the university disclosed that she and others used private emails to discuss sensitive university business without public scrutiny. The No. 2 administrator on campus, Provost Ilesanmi Adesida, followed with his own resignation announcement.

The lawsuits by seven former women's basketball players alleging racial abuse by coach Matt Bollant - a Thomas hire who has denied any wrongdoing - and a former soccer player alleging she was improperly cleared to play after a concussion had already put pressure on Thomas. Now Beckman, Thomas' first hire at Illinois, is gone.

University President Timothy Killeen, himself just a few months into the job, plans to hire a permanent chancellor in six to nine months.

Thomas said Friday he's confident in the job he's doing, and insisted the problems the investigators say they found in Beckman's program didn't reflect the culture Thomas is building.

Thomas said he had never heard of any serious issues before former football player Simon Cvijanovic went on Twitter in May and accused Beckman of misleading him about his injuries and pressuring him to play through them. And Thomas noted he leads a large department - 525 athletes and 300 staff members in 21 sports.

''It's a large operation. We have several layers. Everyone needs to be held accountable,'' Thomas said, adding that Beckman's situation leads him to ask questions. ''Why did we not know these things? Why weren't they shared? We are doing those things.''

Thomas said the university was working on a code of conduct even before the allegations, and that the school has hired a consulting firm led by former Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe to help prevent future problems.

Cubit, who gets a raise of $400,000 on top of his annual $515,000 annual salary, is returning to a familiar role. He was the head coach at Western Michigan before Beckman hired him as offensive coordinator.

He calls himself ''a process guy,'' focusing only on what's immediately in front of him.

He learned Beckman had been fired and that the interim job had been offered to him while eating breakfast with his wife. So he took it.

He spoke briefly with Beckman, he said, and thanked him for hiring him in the first place.

And then he moved on to the players.

''You've got guys down there in the locker room who are wondering, who are nervous. There are a lot of emotions,'' Cubit said. ''Like I told them, the one emotion you better have is perseverance.''

One of those players, linebacker Mason Monheim, seemed stunned Friday afternoon. He said he didn't know what to make of the findings against Beckman, but he looked forward to playing for Cubit.

A senior, Monheim has been a part of teams that have won just 12 games in three seasons.

''There's a lot of negativity around this program, for whatever reason, and with this happening here, there's probably going to be even more,'' he said. ''But we don't really care. We love to be the underdog.''

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