No sooner had Illinois head basketball coach John Groce hired his coaching staff, he lost a couple and needed to find replacements. It required extra work to find and hire quality people at a time when recruiting needs were at the forefront of his thinking. But he is happy with the way things turned out.
The first one to leave was Ramone Williams, who followed Groce from Ohio University to serve as Assistant to the Head Coach. He is a tremendous young coach with a bright future, but Groce was happy to see him get an assistant coaching job at Virginia Tech.
"I'm very excited for Ramone Williams. He had an unbelievable opportunity to move back home. He grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, and his wife grew up in Lexington. Lexington is an hour from Virginia Tech's campus, and his relatives are 20 minutes away. It's like a dream job for him.
"I'm so excited for him. He's one of the greatest people I've ever been around, and Ray has a tremendous family. That was a no-brainer. I couldn't take him out of here fast enough. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him. It was a place he respected since he was a youngster, much like I felt about Illinois."
The Williams loss hurt, but Groce had tremendous good fortune finding a replacement. Brandon Miller had been a top assistant at Ohio State before quitting to spend more time with his family. Groce convinced him to join the staff as Assistant to the Head Coach despite it being a no-coaching, no-recruiting position.
"Brandon is a great coach, a great person and a great friend. He is someone I trust at a high level. I've coached Brandon, I've coached with Brandon. He's someone who's a tremendous addition to our staff. I'm so thankful that he chose to be part of what we're doing."
The Isaac Chew defection was a surprise and a major blow in the short term. He departed after little more than a month on campus to join his friend Buzz Williams at Marquette and receive a major salary bump. Finding a replacement took more time and effort, but Paris Parham might be a more than adequate replacement.
"Obviously, the other one happened in a little bit more surprising fashion. But I feel very blessed that we have been able to hire someone who I think is gonna do a great job for us. Sometimes you go through something, and you don't see why it happens. Then at the end of the day, where you get to where we are right now, wow, you're glad it happened."
Parham coached in the Chicago Public League and for a Chicago-based AAU team in addition to his college work. His last stop before Illinois was Illinois State, so he has developed numerous recruiting contacts in Chicago and all over the state. Plus, he wants to be here.
"I think Paris is a great fit. Obviously, the fact that he was born and raised in the state and has spent the majority of his time in this state is important. He's from Chicago and was actually on Coach Henson's staff at New Mexico State, so there's a connection there. And then he spent the last five years at Illinois State.
"He loves this place; that came through crystal clear in the interview process. So we feel very excited about having him on staff. We've got everybody on the bus right now moving in the right direction, all wheels spinning and moving North."
It seems obvious Groce wants well-rounded coaches who can handle all aspects of their jobs.
"Yeah, in a perfect world, I'd like to find smorgasbord guys who can do a little bit of everything. I think it is really important when you're at Illinois as a head coach, although you'd like to spend 80-90% of your time coaching the team, developing players and recruiting, the reality is there are other parts to the job that are also very important. Things you have to address and be involved with.
"It means your staff has to really be on the same page and on point, especially in those three areas. I feel we've got a staff that understands the passion we have for developing our players, for recruiting and for coaching our teams. I feel very fortunate that we've got some well-rounded guys."
Some head coaches want assistants who will be yes-men, followers who will bend to the head man's will. That may be good for the head coach, but in the long run it fails to prepare assistants to become head coaches. Groce wants his assistants to become head coaches also.
"Yeah, I think they all have goals of doing that. I want to help them do that. I've always preached this to the team, and it's the same with the staff. The more success your team has, the more success we have as a basketball program, then our individual goals and dreams that our staff has to be head coaches will take care of itself.
"Same thing with our players. When we get caught up into winning and being a successful program, then all those individual goals have more of a chance to come to fruition. I think those things work hand-in-hand."
In part three of a 9-part report, Groce continues his discussion of what he wants from his assistants.