Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber, who has repeatedly blamed himself for his team's frustrating losses this year, provided further clarification on his thoughts and feelings Friday. His remarks were self-effacing and apologetic on the one hand but demonstrated his fighting spirit on the other. All Illini fans can benefit from understanding their coach better.
"Obviously, my postgame press conference received a lot of attention. There's no doubt that the frustration and disappointment of so many close losses takes a toll on everybody. It has made it hard.
"I think a couple of my biggest weaknesses as a person and a coach is, at times I speak with a lot of honesty, and I also care too much. I think too, that I am very hard on myself. A lot of times, maybe I'm harder on myself than I probably should be. That's just how I am.
"I was obviously disappointed that I haven't been able to get the toughness in our guys, and that's the difference in a lot of close games. There's no doubt about that. Probably I could have expressed it in a little different language, or different tone of voice. That's just how it happens.
"I think people that know me, know I'm a fighter. By no means would I ever think that our season is over or that I'd given up on anybody. In fact, it's the other way. I think more than anything, that's why I speak so loudly that people in "C" can hear me. My buddies from high school called and said, 'That's just Bruce. He got after us the same way.'"
Some interpreted his remarks as a criticism of his players. He doesn't feel that way, and he says his players don't either.
"There is no doubt I like my team, I like what they are. I'm just disappointed we haven't found a way to take them the next step, and so many of the games have been close. So it's tough, there's no doubt about it.
"I asked them if they'd heard my press conference. A couple of them said they'd heard some things I'd talked about. I said, 'What was my message?' They said that we need to be tougher. I said, 'That's exactly right, that was my whole message.'
"They also said, 'And who did I mainly blame?' They said, 'You always take the blame for everything coach.' Some of them said, 'The problem is, it's us that need to take the blame and take accountability and do something (about it).' And that's about all that was said about it.
"I said, 'However the message was presented, I hope that it makes a difference in our team, our season and our future.'"
Might his remarks serve as a rallying cry for the team?
"I hope so. I've tried a lot of things these last three weeks, so if it is, I'm brilliant."
Weber won't discuss the clamor for his dismissal. But he is quick to remind about the successes he's enjoyed and obstacles he's faced as Illinois coach.
"I love Illinois. I've said many times I want to finish my career here. I've done a lot of good things. Some things that happened, you lose Jamar Smith, you lose Chester (Frazier) in postseason, you lose Jereme Richmond after a year, Sammie (Maniscalco) gets hurt.
"It hasn't been smooth sailing, but I still think we've done a lot of things that are important. We have a solid all-around program. Do I want to do better? No doubt. And that's my disappointment and frustration because I know I'm a good coach. I've done it for a long time, I've won championships. We've done things at Illinois no other coach has done.
"I hope I can get through to these guys, that's my whole thing in life. Probably one of the most rewarding things is the hundreds and hundreds of e-mails from fans, but also more importantly from former coaches and colleagues. To be honest, you sometimes get tears in your eyes because of the things people said. It was positive."
The tears were obvious through the phone connection. Weber has a giant heart, and he sometimes wears it on his sleeve. Some object, but it may be one of his best traits.
A reporter asked if he has lost the fan base. Weber provided a recent story that counters the negative perception some try so vehemently to project.
"You know, it's so funny you ask that. I went to a high school game with my wife last Friday night in Springfield. It was a sellout game, and the AD had to meet me at the door to get me in. He said, 'You're going to be surprised when you walk in.'
"I walked in, this was last Friday, people chanted my name. They had to escort me to a seat. After the game, I signed autographs and took pictures for 20 minutes to a half hour. There were still people--I probably could've stayed for an hour. The AD finally told the people the coach had to get on a plane to Michigan tomorrow.
"We've lost people. When you don't win and compete for championships every year, you lose some of the fans. But we still have a great fan base. They cheered until the end of the game. I think our secretary was at 100 e-mails that we've gotten, and 99 were good. One was bad, and guess what? Ironically, the one bad one didn't put an e-mail return address on it.
"I talked to Tom Izzo. Last year, he was picked number two in the country and had to fight to get into the NCAA. People questioned it. That's part of coaching, there's no doubt about it."
Someone asked if he has ever considered resigning. Weber the fighter responded quickly and succinctly.
"It's not even a question I'll address, to be honest. What has happened? We are 16-10. We're still in the NCAA field. We've had some tough losses. I think that's way beyond. We've had a lot of close games, more than anyone in the country. A lot of gut-check games. Hopefully we can get this turned around."
Weber hasn't given up. He hopes the fans will continue their support through the tough times. There's still five games and the Big 10 tourney to turn things around. Weber is fighting to remain Illini coach as he wades through these difficult times.