There’s a long intro to this column. If you don’t want to read my ruminations, scroll down ’til you find Bold lettering.
I have a list. It excludes all the people you’ve read on all the other lists. It’s not that those names shouldn’t be considered, it’s that you’re bored reading about them.
Just after the new year, I began asking my colleagues in the media: “When did you start making your list?”
Everyone had a specific answer. Whether it was the first Maryland game, at Indiana or Winthrop; everyone immediately remembered the moment.
No one ever asked “which list?”
Fans need not hate John Groce. They can want a new basketball coach without diminishing Groce as a human being. He didn’t publicly trash his players the way Bruce Weber did. He didn’t run the program into the ground the way Weber did. Groce merely failed to revive the program from Weber’s destruction.
John Groce got a five year contract to rebuild the program, and he got five years to rebuild the program. Fair’s fair. Illinois gave John Groce the time and money it promised.
Everybody can feel bad that it didn’t work out, while also acknowledging that it didn’t work out.
Groce is now $8.1 million richer than he was in April of 2012. His connections in the basketball world, and the level of respect he’s earned from members of the coaching fraternity, will ensure that he continues to earn a significant salary for as long as he wants to keep coaching.
We can feel bad that John Groce failed to achieve a level of success we all wanted. But we don’t need to feel sorry for him. He’ll be fine.
It’s really a perfect time to attract a new coach. Groce recruited a pretty good incoming class. That makes the job desirable to worthwhile candidates. Dee-Deron-Luther had Bruce Weber literally (yep) jumping (does nobody but me remember this interview?) in 2003, when Bill Self taught Ron Guenther a lesson about market forces.
With Michael Orris and Jalen James in the fold, Illini basketball did not find anyone eagerly jumping for Weber’s job.
The Lovie Hire
A blindsiding surprise. A pro coach moving to the college level.
Who’s the guy with a Chicago connection who then took the reins of a pro team in Florida?
Midwest native, Big Ten roots, pro pedigree. Can he coach? A lot of people have opinions on this topic. Over the last twenty years, quite a few of them played for Skiles in the NBA, where he’s benn both an assistant and head coach. Why not ask some of them how he’d do in a college setting?
We have his phone number. Might as well.
Presumably, he’d be a real hard ass on the players. What incentive would compel him to take on a difficult job? That’s actually the easy question to answer. All you have to do is present a challenge to Jordan, with the mild suggestion that it might be too much for him, and watch him go.
Yes, he’s dead, but it’s traditional to add him to these lists. And naming him as the next Illini coach would certainly raise the profile of the program.
The Lateral Mover
His name is x, and when Josh Whitman introduces him, you’ll still be wondering why he left y for Champaign. He seemed comfortable there, and his teams regularly competed for conference titles and protected seeds.
Was it the weather? Marital issues? Did he not get along with the new AD? Maybe we’ll never know. We still can’t believe our good fortune.
The Up n’ Comers
Are these guys ready for prime time?
VCU looks great. Shaka Smart looks lousy. Is it the water in Richmond? Or is it playing in the Atlantic 10? As I write, Wade is tied (with everyone’s favorite Archie) for first place in conference.
Furman head coach is a protégé of Dan Monson, Jim Molinari, Tim Miles and Larry Eustachy. He’s rebuilt the Paladins into a contender, currently atop the SoCon, ahead of the next two guys listed.
TSU is in Johnson City, the most Appalachian town I’ve ever played guitar in. Steve Forbes fits well there, being a bit of a hillbilly. His mentors include Gregg Marshall and Bill Self.
Chattanooga kicked our ass last year.
At 57, it’s Alternative Facty to call Kermit at Up’n’Comer. But look at Middle Tennessee’s record over the last six years. It’s so good that the Blue Raiders jumped up to Conference USA (which, of course, isn’t really saying much, but still).
Comes from successful program – Check
Years in the NBA – Check
Recognizable from TV – Check
Fellow UNC assistant Steve Robinson has already proved his coaching chops. Robinson was so successful at Tulsa that he got the Florida State gig. The n he ruined the Seminoles. Davis hasn’t ruined anyone yet,
Davis has no B1G ties. He’s a lifelong east coast guy. Would he say no? Probably not. Assistant coaches have one goal: Become head coaches.
Surely the top candidate to replace either Lorenzo Romar or Ernie Kent, there’s no reason for Lloyd to leave his native Washington for the corn and soybeans. But it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Lloyd is the guy who keeps persuading future pro players to leave their foreign homelands, spend a few years in Spokane, and then get drafted by the NBA.
Spokane has a river, and some scenery. But it’s kinda the middle of a desert, and nowhere near Seattle. Geographically challenged euroballers might just as easily be fooled into emigrating here.
His first TEnnessee State team was terrible. IN year two, they had a stunning turnaround. Now it’s year three, and they’re mediocre again.
Ford is from Illinois, attended Illinois State and assisted Gregg Marshall at Wichita State and Dan Muller at ISU.
You’ve heard all about Kevin Keatts. Look at what Grant accomplished in three years at Charleston. Two years ago, the Cougars were 3-15 in the CAA. They’re currently 10-2, one game behind Keatts’s Wilmington Seahawks, with whom the Cougars split the season series.
Before gaining the head job he apprenticed under Brad Brownell and Gregg Marshall. Not a shabby education.
Like Deon Thomas, Mennenga would surely walk to Champaign for the head coaching job, right? Well, maybe.
Mennenga is a 1988 graduate of Rantoul Township High School. You can watch him play here (also, dig the full head of hair on the sexy young color analyst).
So maybe he has a soft spot for the EIC. Or maybe he’d do anything within his power to stay as far away from Rantoul as possible.
Currently the Tommy Lloyd-lite of Dana Altman’s Oregon staff (i.e. the guy who’s built relationships in international recruiting circles) Mennenga has vaulted through the coaching ranks, not always gaining friends. Ex-UIC coach Howard Moore rolled his eyes when I asked about Mennenga during last year’s B1G Media Day (this was before Moore returned to the Wisconsin staff). The eye-roll conveyed a Tracy Webster-esque sentiment. Where Bruce Weber felt Webster spent his Illini expense account on securing recruits for Kentucky, Moore’s body language communicated that Mennenga wasn’t fully devoted to the Flames.
Rats know when to get off a sinking ship. Weber and Moore think their ex-assistants were rats.
Rats are smart. When there’s enough food around, they’re snuggly and lovable. When times get tough, they’re ruthless survivors. Mennenga has continued to move upward in the coaching ranks. So has Tracy Webster.
Eventually, Webster will land a head coaching job. His 1-14 record at DePaul (interim) should be attributed to DePaul.
He was an All-Big Ten performer. He’s a Chicago area native. He’s been a consistent high-level D-1 recruiter for over a decade. Wouldn’t it be great to have Charlie Moore right now?
If Keno Davis doesn’t get the Michigan job, it’s just waiting for Alexander (presuming he rebuilds Detroit-Mercy).
Long considered an up & coming recruiting phenom, Gates finally turns up on a list! Maybe there was a child-touching scandal that I missed, otherwise, I don’t understand why Dennis Gates hasn’t been mentioned. How much credit does he get for this year’s Florida State team? How much should he get?
His brother Armon left Loyola to join Chris Collins’s staff at Northwestern. Northwestern is now pissed because it got beat by Illinois. That’s where we stand.
He helped Fred Hoiberg resurrect Iowa State before joining Chris Mullin in Queens. Known as a top pilferer of other teams’ talent, Abdelmassih is the kind of guy you want around when your team needs an overnight infusion of talent. Transfers made ex-Illini football coach Mike White’s career.
I said I wouldn’t mention the people who appear on every other list. Jerrance is actually on a lot of lists, but he seems to inspire universal pooh-poohing, always inspired by rumor & innuendo.
Just for fun, let’s list the legendary Illini players alienated during Groce Administration: Steve Bardo, Kenny Battle, Dee Brown … nah, screw it. It’s already too depressing.
Remember 2007, when Deron Williams told Bruce Weber to hire Jerrance Howard? Since that time, Howard has only burnished his reputation (apart from that marijuana arrest). Most people think Snacks is just a recruiter, and possibly just a bag man.
But I watched him coach back in the days when media were allowed to observe Illini practices. Of all the coaches, Howard was the best at running & explaining a scout(i.e. preparing the team for an upcoming opponent).
You can already imagine Howard’s first hire: Jeff Finke. Finke would be the first bigs position coach since … Dick Nagy? Robert McCullum? … to have played a post position in college.
Former Illini assistant/longtime Lon Kruger associate finally got his own gig, which is similar to Kruger’s first gig. Kruger started at Texas-Pan American, now known as Texas–Rio Grande Valley. Henson’s at Texas-San Antonio. In his first year at UTSA, Henson is .500 in C-USA, but has a losing record overall. He’s a few years from consideration for an upward departure.
It took forever for Henson to finally attain a head coaching gig. How come? What’s wrong with him?
T. J. Otzelberger
Same story here. It’s his first year as a head coach, so we don’t know whether he’ll fail miserably. He’s regarded as a relentless recruiter. His mentors include Greg McDermott and Fred Hoiberg.
Don’t even bother calling …
Billy Gillispie would be the top choice on everyone’s list if he weren’t a workaholic and, more importantly, a chocoholic (but for booze).
Gillispie brought Deron Williams to Champaign. He revived two moribund D-1 programs. He earned the top job in college basketball. And at every stop, he spent a lot of time and money in bars.
I know whereof I speak. I first met Gillispie because he was a regular customer at the watering hole where I poured liquor.
He’s still a great coach and a great recruiter, but if he took another high-major coaching job, it would kill him.
The OKC Thunder are one Russell Westbrook injury from oblivion. But Donovan can pick his job if he chooses to return to the college game. He’s a northeasterner by heritage, and a southerner by choice. Given all his options, reviving a rural-ish Midwestern program doesn’t seem tempting, even with that free Champaign Country Club membership tossed into the bargain.
Tim Floyd – too old
If you’ve known Brad Stevens half your life, you’re a likely candidate for an NBA job. That’s another saving grace for John Groce. If he’s fired at Illinois, he can become the next Todd Lickliter.
Shrewsberry might be a genius, the nation’s best recruiter, and a future Wooden Award winner. Until he does something on his own, rather than because Brad Stevens gave him a job, there’s little data suggesting he’s those things. He assisted Matt Painter for three years at Purdue, then went back to working for Stevens in Boston.
Like Donovan, he can choose his appointment. Like Few, his current position makes him look even better than he is. His salary is already enormous.
Two of my sisters moved to Charlottesville when Dave Matthews was still bartending at Miller’s. Since then, it’s gotten ritzier, more glamorous, and kinda snooty.
There’s no reason to think Bennett is unhappy there. But what if he is? You don’t know until you ask.
He’s a Midwest guy whom everybody tabbed as Bo Ryan’s successor in Madison. And then Greg Gard got the job.
Considering he’s already eclipsed Ol Roy and Ratface, Bennett will theoretically have no problem keeping the Cavaliers atop the ACC.
Wouldn’t it be nice?
Don’t kid yourselves.
These guys have had some success. Can they be successful again?
He’s the most obvious retread on this list, because he coached here already and built a winner in BloNo. Theoretically, he’d be better off staying at SMU, which plays in the American Athletic, the conference no one can ever remember. AAC includes some powerhouse teams, but only a few. The weather is better all around the conference, which is something to think about when you’re constantly traveling in mid-winter.
Gaudio failed at Army and then failed worse at America’s third-best Loyola University (suck it, New Orleans).
But then he succeeded. Skip Prosser’s untimely death gave Gaudio a chance to lead a top-rated recruiting class that he’d been largely responsible for compiling. The first year was rough, but the next season Gaudio guided the Demon Deacons to The Tournament. The year after that, they returned to The Tournament and won a game before top-seeded Kentucky ousted them.
And then he was fired.
Wake Forest has been terrible since.
You kinda wanna stay away from anyone even remotely associated with Bruce Pearl, just on principle.
Davis succeeded wildly at Drake. He failed at Providence. He’s made Central Michigan relevant, not just in the MAC, but in a larger conversation.
He’ll probably get another D-1 job. Either of the B1G’s Michigan schools is probably keeping tabs on him, as their current heads aren’t getting any younger.
It’d be a hard sell for the locals. This guy has zero ties to the area. Do you even know where he coaches? Have you ever heard of him?
“The Mike White of basketball” has a good ring to it, though, for people old enough to remember the halcyon days of Illini sports.
Turner coached Tim Duncan at Wake Forest. He spent six years assisting Mike Montgomery and Don Nelson at Golden State. Just say “Tim Duncan” and “Golden State Warriors” to a prospective recruit. See how they like them marbles.
Maybe he’d be just as mediocre here as Nebraska. But he’s already recruiting Chicago better than John Groce.
Here’s the thing about Tim Miles: Everybody loves him. He’s absolutely hilarious, and a straight shooter.
He’s also proven to be a pretty good basketball coach. Maybe he’ll never be successful at the highest levels, but I sure hope he is because I LOVE Time Miles.
The least depressing limb of the Keady Tree, Lavin has enjoyed the kind of sustained success that’s eluded Matt Painter and Bruce Weber, perhaps because he has a personality to accompany his knowledge of the game.
How’s the remission going? That’s really the only question a Power 5 AD needs to know. Lavin is a national face. He’s succeeded on both coasts after a Midwestern apprenticeship.
A short, bald, middle-aged white dude, you say? Like John Groce, Willard was a top assistant to a top NCAA coach (Rick Pitino).
Like Groce, he had a brief run in a low-major job and did okayish. Two losing conference records at Iona followed by a third place (12-6) MAAC finish somehow propelled him to the Seton Hall job.
Unlike Groce, Willard got into coaching because his dad was Ralph Willard. At least Groce made his own way into the business
For five years, Willard never achieved a winning conference record at Seton Hall. And them last year, he did. And the Pirates went dancing.
They look pretty good this year too, with neutral court wins over Cal and South Carolina, and at Iowa. They’ve been beaten by Creighton, Stanford and Florida.
But if Kevin Willard can do anything for Illinois Basketball, it’s to remind us that sometimes a rebuild reaches maturity in its sixth year.
Sure, he’s got Parkinson’s Disease. But he’s rebuilt three programs and he hired Jamall Walker once upon a time. He also got a verbal from Simeon star Kendrick Nunn. Once an Up’n’Comer wit ha Cinderalla dream season at Murray State, he may be tiring of College Station.
The Facts Fudger was once a rising star. Since he “graduated” from college, his Manhattan Jaspers have sucked.
Clemson is a tough gig. It’s a football school in a basketball conference. Brownell has lots of Midwest ties & experience. Maybe he’ll be just as middle-of-the-pack at Illinois, although it’s interesting to note that UNC & Duke will need a new coaches before long.
The bright young star who’s now failing miserably
Remember how Ron Guenther observed mid-major coach Bruce Weber? Something about Weber appealed to Guenther, who hired him a few months later. Maybe I’m similarly wrong about Jasick, who led the IPFW Mastadons to a near upset over John Groce & Illinois
I felt this way about Brownell when he was at Wilmington. He parlayed that success into a MAC en route to a gig in America’s premier basketball conference, and has been thoroughly mediocre ever since. Does that mean he was never the shining star I thought him to be?
Maybe Tony Jasick will disappear. Maybe he’ll eventually get the Carolina job.
I thought he might be the next big thing. So keep that in mind while you’re choosing whether to allot an ounce of credulity to my musings.
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