Former Illinois offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic ripped Tim Beckman on Twitter on Sunday, saying that Beckman has abused his power as head coach. According to Cvijanovic, Beckman made players play through injuries, forced them to follow unreasonable rules, sometimes wouldn’t allow them to attend personal functions such as weddings or funerals, and threatened to take away scholarships, among other misuses of authority.
“I experienced (it) in so many different ways while I was here and just hearing it afterwards from other players who I hadn’t heard it from before, it started to weigh on me,” Cvijanovic said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “It really took a weight in my heart, and I felt like these guys are voiceless. They’re scared to speak out. There’s a lot of fear. There’s a fear of guys losing their scholarship, there’s fear of guys losing draft stock, and it’s gone as far as guys fearing the university will not allow them to graduate if they speak out.”
Cvijanovic started 33 games in four seasons at Illinois, including nine as a senior. An Ohio native, Cvijanovic was recruited by Beckman while in high school at Cleveland Benedictine. Cvijanovic said that Beckman, who was coaching at Toledo at the time, lied to him during his recruiting trip.
“He told me Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink has more protein than Muscle Milk,” Cvijanovic said. “Simple lie. Didn’t need to be said. But it made him seem like a liar to me.”
Cvijanovic decided not to play for Beckman at Toledo, opting for Illinois instead. Cvijanovic said he loved then-head coach Ron Zook, as well as offensive line coach Joe Gilbert. He also wanted to play in the Big Ten.
Well, it didn’t take long for Illinois to fire Zook and hire Beckman in 2011.
“I was really disappointed when Beckman came out to Illinois because I knew his background,” Cvijanovic said. “It was just hard to really feel comfortable. I did the best I could to welcome him and his family. I did the best I could to conform to his rules. There was a lot of them. There was a player manual the size of a phone book.”
Cvijanovic said things went from bad to worse when a teammate stole some of his personal belongings. Cvijanovic wasn’t sure who it was at first but eventually found out.
“Once I found out and went and confronted him (and) saw the things that he stole from me, he pulled a knife on me and told me to get out,” Cvijanovic said. “So I went to Coach Beckman the next day. He completely ignored the story because he found out that one of the items that he stole from me was an item I was selling on eBay. This item was a bowl gift. It was a gift from the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl committee. It was a bluetooth speaker head. It had nothing to do with Kraft Fight Hunger. It had nothing to do with Illinois, Big Ten, NCAA – nothing. So I didn’t know it was wrong.”
In any event, Cvijanovic said Beckman did not help the situation in any way; in fact, he made it worse.
“Coach Beckman completely ignored the fact that a teammate pulled a knife on me and went straight to the fact that I was a rule-breaker,” Cvijanovic said. “Kicked us out of the office for fighting with each other, went and made us do drug tests – which, I’ve never failed a drug test for him – and made us be teammates in the locker room for two more years. So obviously any time I see the kid, there’s a subconscious fear that I’m not safe in this program.”
Illinois has refuted Cvijanovic’s claims and in a prepared statement called him a “valued member of the team.” Cvijanovic, however, said he was not even invited to the team banquet, perhaps because he left the team during the 2014 season and withdrew from the university before the end of the semester.
“My grades were messed up and I was going through a lot mentally,” Cvijanovic said. “That’s what the therapist’s idea for me at the time was. That’s what he thought that I needed. That was a team doctor who made that decision.”
Cvijanovic said he met with Beckman in his office last Friday to discuss some of these things and to collect the bowl gifts he was promised.
“He kicked me out of the office for getting too in depth with my questioning and catching him in his lies, catching him in his back and forth,” Cvijanovic said. “He was trying to tell me that my teammates thought I was a quitter and (how) he called an honor council meeting, and he named specific players who I knew wouldn’t speak bad about me and who had come to me personally and said good things about what I chose to do.”
Cvijanovic said Beckman has bullied other players as well.
“Anytime someone’s not doing what they’re supposed to, he tries to remind them that scholarships aren’t a four-year thing – which, we don’t even know the rules on that,” Cvijanovic said. “We’re not debriefed on the rules of our scholarship. They keep it real secret. They tell us what rules not to break, and we know that if we break one of those rules we’re going to lose our scholarships. But they don’t tell us what actually will get us to lose our scholarship and that gets really abused. That gets abused a lot. It gets abused also that we don’t have any representation to find out those things without it getting back to coach – without coach knowing that we’re a cowboy and not a solider.
“The bottom line is, (student-athletes) are underrepresented,” Cvijanovic continued. “(It’s) not just the football program. (It’s) not just an Illinois issue. It’s a nationwide athletics issue where students are underrepresented and they’re being used for their bodies. And the dreams – the NFL dreams and the NBA dreams and the Major League dreams of these high school players – allows them to believe blindly whatever a coach tells them, and it puts them in danger for the rest of their life.”