Some say Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber is on the firing line this year, with the 2011-12 season's outcome determining his future in Champaign. Add in a new athletic director, and the naysayers are ready to pounce. Does he feel more pressure to win this year?
"I feel pressure all the time."
The Illini lost a few heartbreakers last year, games fans assumed should have been wins. The inconsistency was frustrating. Illini fans began to examine the coach and his program with a fine-toothed comb, looking for explanations. He heard plenty of criticisms this summer while on the Illini Caravan tour of the state. He responded with humor.
"You yell too much, you don't sub. The big thing at the Caravan, 'Why do you tell them to walk it up and slow it down at the end of games?' I said, 'You guys tell me I yell too much, you can always hear me yell. Have you ever heard me yell to walk it up and don't shoot?'"
Weber does shout instructions to his players. His voice, if not his words, can be heard high into the stands. His behavior is not unique among college coaches.
"The thing I always thought was ironic, the Bulls had great success, and (Tom) Thibodeau probably yelled as much as any coach in the League. Ever. He had less voice than I did after games.
"I joked on the Caravan that he was making me look good."
Weber doesn't demean his players but reminds them of their responsibilities during game action.
"If they're not jumping to the ball and not boxing out, then you can't do that. I think too, you saw this with Phil Jackson. You never saw him ever react, and all of a sudden things were going bad and even he reacted.
"When you want to win so bad, and the pressure is there...with him, he wanted to win another championship and go out on a great note. You even saw the pressure get to someone like him. He may go down as the best ever as far as the NBA goes.
"You watch coaches, and you see that. When you have good players, and they do what you ask, it makes it a lot easier as a coach. I'll be honest, I yell 'Push, run out.'"
The key to being a good coach is to do what you think is best and let the chips fall where they may. In Weber's case, he'd rather err with commission than omission.
"Yeah. You've just got to do like in Coach (John) Wooden's book, 'Be true to yourself.' I've been doing it for 34 years, and we've been part of a lot of championships and won a lot of games. A lot of kids graduated, a lot of kids developed. I must be doing something good."
Weber realizes he would be held in no higher regard by fans if he kept quiet on the sideline.
"Then you get criticized for not saying something."
Weber didn't yell much his second year on campus. He didn't have to.
"When you have guys that do what they're supposed to...In '04 to '05, I had a recruit tell me he liked how I would just sit there and let them play. We had the players to do that."
He realizes criticism is part of the game. The Internet has magnified the problem as it allows anyone to remain anonymous while lambasting imperfection. He tries his best to avoid the worst of it.
"It's just part of it. I don't read (the boards). All I do is coach and don't worry about what they say."
Weber helped four departing seniors improve their games through their college careers. It wasn't enough to pacify all the fans, but the development was quantifiable. He is willing to take the blame for his imperfections.
"You've got to look at yourself. Why didn't we win 24-25 games? Some of it was the makeup of the players, but then maybe we didn't do a good job of getting the right guys we should have."
Receiving positive reinforcement from sources he respects helps him survive the onslaught.
"The thing that hit me this spring was, I had multiple places that wanted me to come and coach them. So somebody must think I do okay."
Weber welcomes 7 newcomers to a team composed almost entirely of young players this upcoming season. There will no doubt be some struggles along the way, but hope springs eternal he can still win big and please the fans at the same time.
"You never know, but I feel good about the kids right now. A lot of things have to happen. You have to stay away from injuries. But I think we have a good nucleus to be very successful the next couple years."