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After long coaching road, Cubit says he'll enjoy every minute in new top job at Illinois

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CHAMPAIGN, Illinois — Bill Cubit joked that he thought the blazer he wore to the podium Monday to speak to reporters made him look good.

There was actually a reason a guy usually seen in coaching gear wore the blue coat on a 90-degree day.

"I've always done it at every place I've been. You go out there in a professional manner," the 61-year-old Cubit said.

Cubit took over as interim coach Friday after athletic director Mike Thomas decided that his predecessor, Tim Beckman, should no longer be the face of the football program. The firing came after an investigation into claims that Beckman had pressured players to play hurt and interfered with medical decision-making.

Beckman has denied he did anything wrong, and hinted that he'll sue after the university declined to pay him the $3.1 million left on his contract or his buyout.

Cubit takes over with the season-opener against Kent State coming up on Friday, knowing that he'd like to win the job on a permanent basis but having no idea if that might happen. But on Monday he said he felt no special pressure.

"I'm going to enjoy every minute of it," Cubit said of his first shot at being the head coach at a major university.

Players said they are ready to play for Cubit.

"It's a little crazy, but it is what it is, and we've got a good leader up there," offensive lineman Teddy Karras said.

PHOTO: University of Illinois interim head football coach Bill Cubit answers a question during a press conference at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill., Monday Aug. 31, 2015 (Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette via AP)  MANDATORY CREDIT
University of Illinois interim head football coach Bill Cubit answers a question during a press conference at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill., Monday Aug. 31, 2015 (Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Cubit has coached at Florida and Missouri and Stanford. But he also made stops at tiny Widener in Pennsylvania and at Martin County High School in Florida.

His eight-year run as head coach at Western Michigan ended with a four-win season that got him fired, and then he landed at Illinois.

Cubit is comfortable with his players — one, quarterback Wes Lunt, was at ease enough Monday to kid him about the blue blazer — and with reporters and others.

The only moment Cubit appeared uncomfortable was when he was asked if he feared other members of the staff might be implicated in the investigation that led to Beckman's firing.

"I don't know," he said, his face suddenly serious.

Cubit said he has already talked to his staff about injuries and other aspects of how they treat players.

"I let them know why we're here, and understand you have a responsibility to go out there and do the best you can for the student athletes, and that's in all phases," Cubit said. "Yeah, we went over that a little."

But other than some minor changes in the drills they run, not much else has changed, Cubit said. Given that Beckman was fired a week before the opener, there's no time. He quipped that he hasn't time to even eat a meal.

Cubit said he hopes people will rally around the football program on a campus where former athletes in two other sports, women's basketball and soccer, have alleged they were either mistreated and had injuries mishandled, and where the top two administrators have resigned under pressure in recent weeks.

"I want us to be the rallying cry for this campus," Cubit said. He then added: "I understand. We've got to go out and win."

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