Home > Illinois basketball > Grass isn’t necessarily greener for Illini minus Weber

Grass isn’t necessarily greener for Illini minus Weber

Reports that Bruce Weber had shown interest in the Oklahoma opening forced the Illinois basketball coach to release a statement reaffirming that he is “committed” to the Illini program.

Some Illini fans have voiced message-board opinions that suggest they would rather see him board the next jet to Norman, Okla. Like-minded fans expressed disappointment when Matt Painter returned to Purdue, closing another possible exit strategy for the obviously flustered Weber, a Boilermakers assistant for 18 years.

But quick question for those fans: who do you have in mind as a replacement?

OK, I know Brad Stevens is your guy. But would he really leave Butler – a team that he’s taken to consecutive Final Fours and a program that last year gave him a 12-year extension reportedly worth $1 million annually – for Illinois, a program that pays $1.5 million for a coach who led the Illini to its second-ever Final Four?

Illinois has larger coffers than Butler, a wider influence and better facilities. Yet Butler’s Big Man on Campus is the hottest name in coaching, and his back-to-back Final Four resume will keep his name near the top of every coaching candidate list for the foreseeable future.

So you strike out on Stevens. Where do you look next?

Xavier’s Chris Mack? Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall? Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson?

All are up-and-coming coaches that soon may find a power conference home, but are any improvements over Weber?

VCU’s Shaka Smart? He’s had a great run to the Final Four, but the 33-year-old head coach hasn’t finished higher than fourth place in the Colonial Athletic Association in his two seasons at VCU. Buyer beware on the hot but unproven name, whose recruiting ties lie in the southeast.

This is not a “Bruce Weber is great” piece. He hasn’t come close to making the Illini a contender in the Big Ten with his own recruits (Illinois finished tied for second in 2009 but was four games behind champion Michigan State). Recruiting failures led to on-the-court failures, a 35-37 Big Ten record over the last four years.

Fans who felt Illinois was on the precipice of joining the country’s elite following an NCAA runner-up finish in 2005 are rightfully perturbed by the Illini’s revert to mid-90’s mediocrity.

But Weber is just now gaining momentum, signing his third straight top-20 recruiting class and winning his first NCAA Tournament game with his own players. A Weber departure would force a new face to rebirth UI ties in Chicago and throughout the state, which could further setback Illinois by a few years.

Weber’s leash is short and may shrink if UI athletic director Ron Guenther, whose contract expires in July, retires or is replaced. Next season could be a make-or-break campaign for Weber and his staff, who must show that they can develop their talent, but it could also be a year of renewal as recruits that finally mirror Weber’s tireless work ethic fill the program.

Illini fans should expect more out of its basketball program and its coach. But hoping that Weber leaves Illinois on his own accord – especially when the pool of replacement candidates is less than awe-inspiring and drying up quickly – is assuming the grass is always greener.

Jeremy Werner is co-host of the “Tay and J Show,” a 3-6 p.m sports show on 93.5, 95.3 ConnectFM in Champaign, Ill. He can be reached at jeremy@myconnectfm.com.

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Categories: Illinois basketball
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