Illinois basketball coach John Groce may someday be credited with a "coaching tree" of assistants who worked and learned under his tutelage before becoming successful head coaches themselves. At least, he is hiring upwardly mobile assistants who bring their own ideas to the table and are highly motivated to become head coaches.
Some head coaches want assistants who will blindly follow them. No one is allowed to make waves or challenge authority; they want no one looking as good as them.
In one case, a nationally prominent coach has assistants who sit on the bench and move their heads up and down, back and forth in unison, like meercats searching for possible enemies. They make excellent assistants, but most have fizzled out once they became head coaches. Followers don't become good leaders.
In contrast, Groce is confident enough in his abilities to hire people who will challenge and enhance his own knowledge and expertise and work to secure head positions themselves. He doesn't fear competition from his assistants; they can help each other improve.
"These guys are good. We try to hire the best possible staff. I think it's important to hire staff that fits together, that complements one another. I'm not looking for guys that are yes-men. I'm not looking for guys where their only strengths are in the areas of my strengths.
"I want guys that have recruiting areas and contacts that are different than me. I want guys that have expertise in an area that might be at a higher level than I have in that area. We want the best that we can get at the University of Illinois."
It appears he truly wants what's best for the school and basketball program, and not just for himself.
"It's all about Illinois. This deal is about making Illinois as good as we can possibly be. To do that, you have to have high-quality people. And you have to be secure in who you are and have no problem hiring guys who are well-rounded and have thoughts and ideas. That's what we want.
"In our staff meetings, everybody gets a chance to mention different thoughts. If they look at something differently, I appreciate that perspective. Everybody's different, that's why I hire them. I want to get their perspective."
There may be disagreement in coach meetings, but eventually they reach a consensus all can support.
"At the end of the day, you make the final decision, and we're all on the same page. We'll walk out of the door, and that's the message that we will send to our players. That's the message we're sending the community about what we want done in a certain area, or how we want to do things.
"Loyalty is important, but I like guys who think outside the box. I like having those type of guys on our staff."
When you have a quality staff, you can give them assignments and trust them to get their work done properly.
"I've got responsibilities that I give these guys. I want them to do those things at the highest possible level. When they do them is up to them. That's part of why guys have enjoyed working in our group.
"If a guy wants to take his kids to school in the morning, have at it. I don't keep office hours. It's not about punching a time clock, it's about getting the job done.
"All our guys on staff have certain things they're the point man on. Not just our assistants; Brandon (Miller) does as Assistant to the Head Coach, Mark Morris does as Director of Basketball Operations. I expect them to do their role and their responsibilities as well as possible.
"If they want to work from noon to two in the morning, fine. If they want to work from 7 am to 6 pm to get it done, or 5 am to 5 pm and then go to see their daughter in a school dance recital, I'm all for that. I let them make their own hours; I know they're going to get it done."
In part four of a 9-part interview, Groce discusses recruiting.