Illinois coach Tim Beckman emphasized his eight assistant coaches did not make "a sneak attack" when they visited Penn State players who are interested in transferring from the school. Abiding by NCAA rules, Beckman said his coaches met with players who contacted the Illinois staff. The meetings took place this week at a Starbucks and another restaurant beyond the Penn State campus.
Beckman did not reveal how many players met with his staff. Penn State players will be able to transfer to other schools and retrain their eligibility after the NCAA handed down sanctions amid the schools child sex abuse scandal.
"We did not go onto their campus," Beckman said Thursday at Big Ten Football Media Day at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago. "We only talked to individuals that would be willing to meet with us. We did not go after them. They had the opportunity to come to us if they would like to come to us and speak to us."
Beckman said Penn State was aware which players Illinois would talk to, as Illini staff provided the Nittany Lions with a list of names before the visit. Illinois coaches were seen in State College, Pa., carrying bags with team logos, according to reports. Beckman said he did not make the trip. His coaches talked to players they had previous connections with through recruiting, Beckman said.
"We went there to reach out to the guys that were contacting us previously that we talked to before we went there and then gave them an opportunity to come to us," said Beckman, who replaced the fired Ron Zook, who was 34-51 in seven seasons at Illinois. "We did not go after them. We told them where we were at, and if they would like to come and talk to our coaching staff, we would be willing to speak with them off campus."
While other Big Ten coaches said Thursday they would refrain from recruiting Penn State players out of respect, Beckman said he wants to give players the opportunity if they want to transfer to Illinois.
"I didn't want it to be a big scene or anything like that, and it ended up being more of a scene than it was," Beckman said. "But everything we've done has been NCAA compliant. Penn State knew.
Penn State coach Bill OBrien said Thursday he had yet to speak with Beckman about the situation. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany sounded less than enthused about conference schools recruiting Penn State players, but he conferred with the school presidents.
"My advice to them was this is not a healthy place for us to be." Delany said. "Their response was unanimous. And that was this is not about competition between and among schools. It's about the student-athlete having a full spectrum of opportunities."
During his sessions with the media, Beckman also addressed his transition from Toledo and the Mid-American Conference, his offense and the issue of two ineligible teams (Ohio State and Penn State) in the Leaders Division.
Although Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible for the postseason, leaving Wisconsin, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana as the eligible teams among the Leaders, Beckman said his team still has to win games.
As for his quarterbacks, Beckman said hell put his best players on the field. He used two quarterbacks at Toledo, and he suggested the possibility of doing the same at times in the spread offense at Illinois.
Both of them are great leaders, Beckman said. Nathan Scheelhaase runs the football, and Reilly OToole is a little bit more of a thrower. But its still about the success of the team and the success of the offense, so were going to be able to play whichever one is most consistent and can move our offense down the field.
Last season, Toledo averaged 42.2 points per game under Beckman, who went 21-16 in three seasons at the MAC school. Illinois is coming off a 7-6 season. The Illini began 6-0 but lost six in a row before beating UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
"With the offense that we're installing in Champaign, it will be a dual-threat offense," Beckman said. "You'll see two running backs in the football game at times. You'll even at times see two quarterbacks in the football game with quarterback Miles Osei lining up at running back also. So, it's a commitment that our offensive staff has made to running the football, and we've got to establish the run first for us to be successful."