CHAMPAIGN, Illinois — A few hours before Illinois took the field to close out its season against Northwestern on Saturday, the school announced interim coach Bill Cubit agreed to a two-year contract to become head coach.
The move ended weeks of speculation whether Cubit would take over for the fired Tim Beckman. The hiring fills one of several top positions at Illinois opened by months of turmoil in athletics and elsewhere on campus.
Cubit was promoted from offensive coordinator to interim coach after Beckman was fired before the start of the season.
Cubit wanted the job from the moment he stepped in for Beckman.
"I don't think they're going to find another guy who loves this place like me," Cubit said after a Nov. 14 loss to Ohio State.
Interim athletic director Paul Kowalczyk, who took over when Mike Thomas was fired Nov. 9, said Cubit had earned the job.
"I think Bill is imminently qualified. Obviously, he's been a head coach. He knows what has to be done to run an organization like this and a program like this. Some folks aren't ready for that for that move, but Bill knows. You got to be CEO; you can't just be coach. So there's a lot of moving parts to being a head football coach, and he handles those very well," said Kowalczyk before Saturday's finale against Northwestern.
Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson added that hiring Cubit on a short-term basis — new head coaches typically sign contracts that are longer than two years — made sense since the school is still looking for its next athletic director.
Cubit will make $1.2 million per year. His promotion still requires approval of university trustees.
Cubit joined the Illinois staff as offensive coordinator in 2013. He has a head coaching record of 90-70-1, including stints at Widener and Western Michigan.
Cubit came to Illinois with a well-earned reputation as an offensive-minded tinkerer, and quickly improved the offense.
Players also responded to the charismatic Cubit, lobbying for him to get the job.
"Time to take the interim tag off," offensive lineman Ted Karras said after the Ohio State loss. "That should be the first order of business."
Cubit took over a team facing deep uncertainty.
Beckman was fired just a week before the season started. Several former players accused him of mistreatment and a report by a university-hired law firm found he interfered in medical decisions and pressured players to play hurt. The report found Cubit hadn't done anything wrong.
Kowalczyk admitted Illinois is in a complicated position.
"Obviously, it is not ideal," Kowalczyk said. "But for now I don't think it will put a dagger in the heart of the program. The program is too strong. Bill is recruiting. There is not going to be a stoppage of he is doing, what he is trying to accomplish. We'll just keep things moving in a positive direction."
Allegations of mistreatment had also been made by women's basketball players against coach Matt Bollant and an assistant. A university investigation and two more conducted by other law firms hired by the school found no wrongdoing, but the players' lawsuit continues.
Thomas was fired after the results of all those investigations were released over what his boss, Wilson, called the distraction of those issues.
Wilson took over last summer after Chancellor Phyllis Wise resigned under pressure as the trouble in athletics brewed alongside unrelated issues on campus.