(UPDATED: 3:45 p.m.) CHAMPAIGN — Dick Strahm knew the call was coming. Someday. And he was thrilled to hear "Illinois" at the other end.
From the time Tim Beckman served as a student assistant at the University of Findlay (Ohio), the College Football Hall of Fame coach figured he would end up a success.
Today, his prize student becomes a Big Ten head coach.
"Tim was an overachiever," said Strahm, who won 183 games at Findlay. "He would outwork you. And that's what his ballplayers do at Toledo."
Beckman was officially named Illinois' 23rd football coach today. The 46-year-old has a five-year contract for $9 million, UI athletic director Mike Thomas said during today's news conference (listen here) at Memorial Stadium.
"It was a fast-moving process," Thomas said. "At the end of the day you need someone who is really a CEO of your program. It's not just about the Xs and Os."
Beckman said "this is a dream come true for the Beckman family," during today's news conference.
Pronouncing "Illinois" correctly, Beckman explained how much his family is involved in football.
"It's not just about Tim Beckman. It's about the family that is going to embrace the Illini nation," he said.
Beckman, speaking in loud tones, said he talked to the players before meeting media.
"We're going to be intense," he said. "You will see that on every football player's face."
Beckman said he intends to meet with the current Illinois coaches in the next two days. He will attend the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl game on Dec. 31 "as a spectator." He said "decisions will be made" regarding defensive coordinator Vic Koenning in the future. The two will meet in the next two days.
Asked about recruiting the Chicago area, he said it "will be recruited very heavily by this coaching staff." He said he'll contact the 14 high school players who have committed to Illinois on Friday night.
Beckman brings a spread offense to Illinois.
"I know we have some great offensive talent," he said, mentioning he has watched Illinois on film.
Illinois never has won back-to-back bowl games. "This is a gold mine," Beckman said. "You can win at the University of Illinois."
Appearing relaxed and displaying humor, Beckman said he talked with Thomas last Friday about the opening.
"I think this community is absolutely going to love" the Beckman family, Thomas said.
During the news conference, Thomas said "this is a great day for Illinois football. It was my goal to hire who I felt was the best coach possible and I do believe we found that person."
Thomas said "we need someone who gets out in the community" and said Beckman will do that. Thomas said Illini players told him "it's all about family" in the week leading up to the hire "and there's no doubt that's part of Tim's DNA. He's a mentor."
During talks with former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, Thomas said the conversation swayed to Beckman's energy level. "He makes caffeine nervous."
Thomas also talked with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who told the UI athletic director that it's about "It's fit, fit, fit. Tim Beckman fits Illinois in so many ways," Thomas said.
Toledo's Beckman was named the Illini's 23rd football coach at a news conference at Memorial Stadium's 77 Club.
At 2 p.m., Illinois released a statement naming Beckman as coach.
Beckman was at Bielfeldt Building on campus this morning. He took a 30-minute flight from Toledo to Savoy this morning.
Beckman plans to stay in C-U until early Sunday before returning to Toledo for a team banquet in the afternoon. He will return to C-U on Sunday night for the men's basketball game against Coppin State at the Assembly Hall.
On Monday, he plans to start recruiting for Illinois. (Today's recruiting chat)
He was scheduled to meet with Illinois players before today's news conference. What his role in the upcoming Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl remains unclear — as is the status of defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, who is leading the team as it prepares for the Dec. 31 game in San Francisco (we do know what the band's plans are, however).
Candidates for the job were notified of Beckman's hiring late this morning.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who worked with Beckman at Bowling Green, said: "I've known Tim a long time. He was my defensive coordinator at Bowling Green, and he is one of the top coaches I've ever worked with. You won't find many coaches as quality as Tim Beckman is; he is a great hire for the University of Illinois and the Big Ten Conference."
According to the Toledo Blade, the Rockets were told about Beckman's departure during a morning meeting. Toledo scheduled an afternoon press conference and named offensive coordinator Matt Campbell as its bowl coach. Toledo will then conduct a national search for a head coach.
Reached this morning, Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said Beckman has the potential to succeed at a higher level, like so many other MAC alums.
"He's going to get them in the Rose Bowl," Steinbrecher said.
Illinois Hall of Famer David Williams, reached today in Los Angeles, said he doesn't know much about Beckman, adding: "Hopefully he's not using Illinois as a steppingstone job, that he wants to be here."
Former Illini Eric Rouse, a receiver in the 1970s, was unhappy with the pick. “My first question is, if you’re going to fire Ron Zook, why did you hire him (Beckman)? They could have kept Zook. It smells like Gary Moeller all over again. You’re going to be looking for a coach in three years. He has no interest in Illinois, in the state of Illinois, until he can prove otherwise.”
Callers to Friday's "Penny For Your Thoughts" were 80-20 negative, host Jim Turpin said.
"I think that job is the right job," Strahm said. "He will recruit at Illinois. There is no question about it. I don't know how many of his staff he's bringing along with him, but I know they were outrecruiting everybody in the Mid-American."
The hiring caps a 12-day search that included interviews or interest in Houston's Kevin Sumlin, Southern Mississippi's Larry Fedora, Cincinnati's Butch Jones and Steelers assistant Kirby Wilson. Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi were also reportedly in the mix.
Beckman is the first active college head coach hired at Illinois in 40 years. Bob Blackman, lured away from Dartmouth to coach Illinois in 1971, went 104-37-3 with the Big Green.
“We wish Coach Beckman and his family the very best in their new life at the University of Illinois,” Toledo athletic director Mike O’Brien said today. “Tim did an outstanding job in his three years with the Rockets. He built a solid foundation based on discipline and personal accountability, and he leaves our football program in very good shape for our next head coach.
No information about the candidates came from first-year athletic director Thomas, who conducted the search without any updates for the media. That helped lead to constantly changing stories about the favorites.
Thomas was back in Champaign-Urbana on Thursday afternoon. He took time at midday for a workout, which he hasn't been able to do much since the end of the Zook era.
In Toledo on Thursday, Beckman canceled a previously scheduled late-afternoon news conference. He was with the team at practice and didn't mention Illinois to the players afterward. Beckman was scheduled to attend a memorial service Thursday evening for late Ohio State assistant Joe Daniels, who died after a long battle with cancer.
Asked about the Illinois job by Zach Silka of the Toledo Blade, Beckman twice said, "Nothing right now."
Beckman originally played football at Kentucky but wasn't happy in Lexington. So, his dad, longtime coach Dave Beckman, called Strahm to see if Findlay was interested.
As a sophomore and junior, Beckman was a starting defensive back. But he couldn't play as a senior because of a neck injury.
"I said, 'Tim, you're going to be a teacher and a coach. Why don't you work with me?' " Strahm said.
And work he did.
"He was in watching film more than my defensive backfield coach," Strahm said. "He was really understanding the game."
After Findlay, Beckman served as a graduate assistant at Auburn. The Tigers went 10-2 both seasons.
His first full-time job was a six-year stint as secondary coach and recruiting coordinator for Western Carolina. He spent seven seasons as defensive coordinator at Bowling Green, working two years with Urban Meyer. Beckman coached cornerbacks at Ohio State for two seasons, working for Jim Tressel.
Before taking over at Toledo in 2009, Beckman was Mike Gundy's defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State for two seasons.
In three seasons at Toledo, Beckman is 21-16 overall. His last two teams went a combined 14-2 in the MAC. Thomas said success in the conference is an important goal for the next Illinois coach.
That Beckman is climbing to the Big Ten is no surprise to Strahm.
"That was going to be his next move," Strahm said. "I was concerned about where he would jump to into the Big Ten. Illinois, that's a program that can be turned around. It's a program he can compete with. Knowing Tim, he will compete with the big dogs in a few years."
Beckman has had other Big Ten inquiries in the past but didn't pursue them.
On and off the field, Beckman is known as a disciplinarian.
"He's going to give everybody one chance," Strahm said. "But don't ask for two or three because it isn't going to happen. No matter who it is."
Beckman laid out his expectations for the Toledo players with the "Rocket Code of Conduct." The seven-sentence list includes "I can always be heard saying please when asking for something," and "Phrases such as: good morning, be safe, how are you and have a great day are part of who I am." The last line reads: "I am the respectful Rocket!"
A similar code, with a change in the name, is likely for Illinois.
Beckman's "Rocket mission statement" mentions the football team as a family. It closes with "We will be the class of college football and the Mid-American Conference."
Beckman and his team will be heavily involved in the community.
"They'll be reading to the young kids in the schools," Strahm said. "They will be parading in the halls."
Illinois has tried different approaches when hiring football coaches. It went for a pro head coach (John Mackovic) and an NFL assistant (Ron Turner). It has tried coaches from big-time programs (Zook, Mike White). It has tried assistants from the Big Ten (Gary Moeller) and from its own staff (Lou Tepper, Ray Eliot).
But it has never gone to the MAC. Until now.