Wednesday, March 14, 2012

University of illinois basketball (weber fired)

[This was actually written sometime last week]

The University of Illinois Fighting Illini basketball team has to be at one of its lowest points in history. For a team that just a couple months ago was leading the Big Ten conference, they have suffered a total collapse. They went from being 15-3 to finishing the season at 17-15, fired their coach following elimination from the Big Ten tournament in the first round (to Iowa), and didn't even qualify for the NIT tournament. There are rumors that the players voted that they didn't want to play in the NIT and that the AD lobbied against playing there (even though he publicly said they would accept a bid). Things are just a shambles at this point.

As far as firing Bruce Weber... He was always a nice guy, and I suppose a pretty good coach. He had been on Gene Keady's staff at Purdue for like 18 years, then he went to Southern Illinois and was quite successful with them - taking them to the Sweet 16 a couple times. So when Bill Self left Illinois for Kansas, it was a good hire for the Illini. Weber actually took Illinois the farthest any other coach has taken them in 2005 - to the championship game where they barely lost to North Carolina - and they set a record for wins in a season. What a great year that was. But things have gone down hill from there. Key recruits were lost, teams lacked intensity and fight, and this year Bruce pretty much seemed to lose all control with the players. Perhaps he was too nice of a guy, or perhaps he had lost some drive too... I don't know.

I think Bruce was too much of a "systems" guy. He coached a system, rather than coaching players. Certainly I am no coach myself, but that seems better suited to a smaller school, or mid-major, than at a big-time Big Ten school. I liked that he was a straight up honest guy, but I wonder if a lot of his problems were with not being able to deal with all the wheeling and dealing necessary in today's recruiting world - especially in places like Chicago. I'm not sure that's a knock on Bruce near as much as it is on the scene in Chicago, but... what's a person going to do. Anyway, I felt bad for Bruce and his family, but I think they will be fine. He gets a $3.9 million buyout, and I imagine he will land another nice job very soon.

Word has it that Illinois would really like to hire Shaka Smart from VCU to replace Weber. He worked with Illinois AD Mike Thomas at the University of Akron at one time. He comes from the Billy Donovan tree of coaches. I am a little uncomfortable with taking another mid-major guy and trying to see what he can do, but Shaka does bring some excitement. He is supposed to be highly intelligent, with a high level of integrity, and he is also a real go-getter. He is charismatic and is supposed to be quite the motivator. A real players coach. So he probably makes the most sense to me.

Others in consideration at this point are Anthony Grant at Alabama (whom Smart replaced at VCU), Brad Stevens at Butler (though probably won't come), Reggie Theus (the former Bulls player), Josh Pastner at Memphis, and a whole slew of other people. These aren't necessarily the top names getting mentioned, but they are the ones I think will most be in the running. I would probably prefer Shaka Smart as a first choice, but for some reason I am warming to the idea of Pastner and I don't know why.

It will be interesting nonetheless. The players seem to be really low at this point. Meyers Leonard is apparently going to go pro after one subpar season (could be a lottery pick just based on potential). Brandon Paul really sunk and everyone is down on him - even though he is probably the best player they have - and I think it will be hard for him to come back for his senior year. I wouldn't be surprised if he transferred, along with several others. Even among the assistant coaches it appears things are in disarray. They named Jerrance Howard the interim coach, passing over long-time associate head coach Wayne McClain. Things just seem a mess all around. Mike Thomas, the newly hired (this year) athletic director has fired the head football coach and both the men's and women's basketball coaches all within three months. That's quite a way to start things off.

I have started reading some Illini forums recently. Kind of getting addicted. I get most of my Illini info from:

I just hope things can get turned around and Illini basketball can be fun again. Someday. We will see soon enough, I suppose.