Werner's Whits: Illini start the AD search

Illini Inquirer publisher weighs in on start of Illini athletic director search, Groce's struggles, coaching carousel

Illinois officially announced the start of its athletic director search on Friday -- finally. An eight-team search committee was formed, though it has been formed for about a week. The job was officially posted, but the posting says "a hiring decision will not be made until after January 4, 2016." Illinois has not yet hired a search firm. I'm told a search firm may not be hired at all. If one is hired, it likely will not be Parker Executive Search, which assisted during the hirings of recently dismissed athletic director Mike Thomas and recently dismissed football coach Tim Beckman.

The chair of the committee is football team faculty representative Matt Wheeler, a professor of animal sciences. Also on the committee are Illini football player Mike Bass; associate AD of academic services Keiko Price; soccer coach Janet Rayfield; associate AD of advancement Howard MiltonRichard Stockton, an attorney and a member of the athletics board; Judge Dan Flannell, an Illinois alumn and chief judge in the Illinois Sixth Judicial Circuit Court­; and current UI softball player Nicole Evans. The committee will "make recommendations" to interim chancellor Barbara Wilson, but the final decision needs final approval from the Board of Trustees, which next meets on Thursday, Jan. 21, in Chicago. On the surface, the search committee has intelligent people who have differing levels of experience with athletics, but the key is that all have experience with athletics. There are many doubters of this search firm, but the compisition is similar to Michigan's search committee for a new athletic director, except interim AD Jim Hackett is part of the committee there. Hopefully, they make the right recommendation and/or the higher ups make the right decision. Illinois can't afford to miss on this one.

John Groce and his Illinois coaching staff must re-evaluate. Their team made defensive strides for four of five halves against some of the best competition they've played this season. But it took a huge step back in Wednesday's second half against Notre Dame, when the Irish scored 51 points on 57 percent shooting (including 6-for-10 from three). Per KenPom.com, the Illini (3-5) rank 302nd among 351 Division I teams in effective field goal percentage, 279th in three-point field goal percentage defense (37.9) and 286th in two-point field goal percentage defense (53.2) and 300th in block percentage (5.2). The Illini are bad at defending dribble penetration, bad at rotating and bad at identifying shooters. Now, John Groce has had good defenses at Illinois before, so the teaching has worked. But this team -- especially the young players, their recruits -- are not responding very well and not effectively implementing the scouting reports provided.

"We're going to have to look at everything at this point, obviously, how we're teaching it," Groce said. "We'll self-evaluate. (five second pause) We need to do a better job. At some point, like it's that old deal I've shared with you guys before, it's like the Will Rogers quote. 'Some people learn by listening, seeing, doing or by peeing on the electric fence.' I'm tired of the last one. Next question."

After losing Nnanna Egwu and Rayvonte Rice -- hey they weren't so bad, huh? -- there are no defensive stoppers on the team. That points toward recruiting and why Illinois has made such an effort to land Xavier Sneed, and eventually prioritized signee Kipper Nichols). The Illini have too many weaknesses to exploit on that end. Mike Thorne Jr. was not a good individually defender, but he was large and an elite defensive rebounder. Maverick Morgan and Michael Finke are below-average defenders and were exposed by Zach Auguste. Sophomore forward Leron Black lacks height, but, more importantly, he lacks explosion right now as he continues to recover from meniscus surgery. Jaylon Tate is a smart and willing defender but lacks the strength to compete with top point guards. Khalid Lewis is an upgrade due to strength and athleticism but has struggled early on at times. Malcolm Hill relies on savvy more than quickness and athleticism. Kendrick Nunn can be the team's best defender but hasn't been consistent.

Illinois is playing like a tight team. Some of that has to do with newcomers, changing lineups due to injuries and uncertain roles. But FOX Sports analyst and former Colorado football player Joel Klatt had an interesting quote on Twitter yesterday.

Groce is always focused, always on, always intense. You wonder if that brings a tightness to the program when there are struggles. His team has lost eight of its last 11 games, including the final three games of last season (the first two with immense pressure to win the NCAA Tournament). The honeymoon period for Groce is over, and his staff feels the pressure. His players are playing a bit tight, which -- as Klatt said -- seems to be taking away some focus on the little things, like scouting reports.

When it comes to the future of Illinois basketball, the next athletic director must evaluate the big picture. Groce likely will miss his third NCAA Tournament. The program isn't progressing on the court, but injuries surely have played a small part of that. And yes, you can sympathize for Groce in that aspect but also understand that the program is not where it needs to be four years into the job. But even if Tracy Abrams and Mike Thorne Jr. return next season, four-fifths of the likely starting lineup graduates in 2017. Groce must show progress on the recruiting trail, and starting the 2017 class with a few big commits would help him immensely. Five-star Jeremiah Tilmon visited for Wednesday's loss to Notre Dame. He'd be the biggest Illini splash in recruiting in more than a decade, but he likely wouldn't be convinced to come to Illinois until a few other 2017 prospects are convinced to come to Illinois.

The coaching carousel is spinning fast, but it isn't as crazy as I'd envisioned -- mostly because the top jobs aren't stealing head coaches from elsewhere. USC kept interim head coach Clay Helton instead of going after the splashy hire. Georgia hired the best defensive coordinator candidate in the country, Alabama's Kirby Smart -- who had turned down multiple head coaching opportunities previously. Miami hired Georgia's old coach, Mark Richt, a Miami alum. LSU came to its senses and kept Les Miles. Missouri hired from within, promoting defensive coordinator Barry Odom. While there is a lot of movement, the carousel isn't quite as chaotic as we had assumed a few weeks ago.

"Mid-majors" have more resources than ever. And are more willing to open their wallets to keep good coaches. Houston reportedly is close to giving rising star coach Tom Herman a new contract that will pay him more than many power-five conference coaches. Toledo's new coach, Jason Candle, is making $650,000, more than Matt Campbell (now the Iowa State coach) made at Toledo ($495,000). Western Michigan reportedly may increase P.J. Fleck's contract, which already pays him a MAC-record $800,000 per season. I've said this before, but this allows some coaches to be a bit more picky about their big move up the ladder (a la Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens). Virginia Tech had to pony up $3.2 million to get Memphis coach Justin Fuente, who made $1.4 million annually with the Tigers.

Dino Babers reportedly has talked to a lot of programs, including Missouri, UCF and Syracuse. He seems intent on leaving Bowling Green (and upgrading his $400,000) annual salary -- even for less than "ideal" situations.


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Groce is always focused, always on, always intense. You wonder if that brings a tightness to the program when there are struggles. His team has lost eight of its last 11 games, including the final three games of last season (the first two with immense pressure to win the NCAA Tournament). The honeymoon period for Groce is over, and his staff feels the pressure. His players are playing a bit tight, which -- as Klatt said -- seems to be taking away some focus on the little things, like scouting reports.

\n

When it comes to the future of Illinois basketball, the next athletic director must evaluate the big picture. Groce likely will miss his third NCAA Tournament. The program isn't progressing on the court, but injuries surely have played a small part of that. And yes, you can sympathize for Groce in that aspect but also understand that the program is not where it needs to be four years into the job. But even if Tracy Abrams and Mike Thorne Jr. return next season, four-fifths of the likely starting lineup graduates in 2017. Groce must show progress on the recruiting trail, and starting the 2017 class with a few big commits would help him immensely. Five-star Jeremiah Tilmon visited for Wednesday's loss to Notre Dame. He'd be the biggest Illini splash in recruiting in more than a decade, but he likely wouldn't be convinced to come to Illinois until a few other 2017 prospects are convinced to come to Illinois.

\n

The coaching carousel is spinning fast, but it isn't as crazy as I'd envisioned -- mostly because the top jobs aren't stealing head coaches from elsewhere. USC kept interim head coach Clay Helton instead of going after the splashy hire. Georgia hired the best defensive coordinator candidate in the country, Alabama's Kirby Smart -- who had turned down multiple head coaching opportunities previously. Miami hired Georgia's old coach, Mark Richt, a Miami alum. LSU came to its senses and kept Les Miles. Missouri hired from within, promoting defensive coordinator Barry Odom. While there is a lot of movement, the carousel isn't quite as chaotic as we had assumed a few weeks ago.

\n

\"Mid-majors\" have more resources than ever. And are more willing to open their wallets to keep good coaches. Houston reportedly is close to giving rising star coach Tom Herman a new contract that will pay him more than many power-five conference coaches. Toledo's new coach, Jason Candle, is making $650,000, more than Matt Campbell (now the Iowa State coach) made at Toledo ($495,000). Western Michigan reportedly may increase P.J. Fleck's contract, which already pays him a MAC-record $800,000 per season. I've said this before, but this allows some coaches to be a bit more picky about their big move up the ladder (a la Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens). Virginia Tech had to pony up $3.2 million to get Memphis coach Justin Fuente, who made $1.4 million annually with the Tigers.

\n

Dino Babers reportedly has talked to a lot of programs, including Missouri, UCF and Syracuse. He seems intent on leaving Bowling Green (and upgrading his $400,000) annual salary -- even for less than \"ideal\" situations.

","mobileBody":"

Illinois officially announced the start of its athletic director search on Friday -- finally. An eight-team search committee was formed, though it has been formed for about a week. The job was officially posted, but the posting says \"a hiring decision will not be made until after January 4, 2016.\" Illinois has not yet hired a search firm. I'm told a search firm may not be hired at all. If one is hired, it likely will not be Parker Executive Search, which assisted during the hirings of recently dismissed athletic director Mike Thomas and recently dismissed football coach Tim Beckman.

The chair of the committee is football team faculty representative Matt Wheeler, a professor of animal sciences. Also on the committee are Illini football player Mike Bass; associate AD of academic services Keiko Price; soccer coach Janet Rayfield; associate AD of advancement Howard Milton, Richard Stockton, an attorney and a member of the athletics board; Judge Dan Flannell, an Illinois alumn and chief judge in the Illinois Sixth Judicial Circuit Court­; and current UI softball player Nicole Evans. The committee will \"make recommendations\" to interim chancellor Barbara Wilson, but the final decision needs final approval from the Board of Trustees, which next meets on Thursday, Jan. 21, in Chicago. On the surface, the search committee has intelligent people who have differing levels of experience with athletics, but the key is that all have experience with athletics. There are many doubters of this search firm, but the compisition is similar to Michigan's search committee for a new athletic director, except interim AD Jim Hackett is part of the committee there. Hopefully, they make the right recommendation and/or the higher ups make the right decision. Illinois can't afford to miss on this one.

John Groce and his Illinois coaching staff must re-evaluate. Their team made defensive strides for four of five halves against some of the best competition they've played this season. But it took a huge step back in Wednesday's second half against Notre Dame, when the Irish scored 51 points on 57 percent shooting (including 6-for-10 from three). Per KenPom.com, the Illini (3-5) rank 302nd among 351 Division I teams in effective field goal percentage, 279th in three-point field goal percentage defense (37.9) and 286th in two-point field goal percentage defense (53.2) and 300th in block percentage (5.2). The Illini are bad at defending dribble penetration, bad at rotating and bad at identifying shooters. Now, John Groce has had good defenses at Illinois before, so the teaching has worked. But this team -- especially the young players, their recruits -- are not responding very well and not effectively implementing the scouting reports provided.

\"We're going to have to look at everything at this point, obviously, how we're teaching it,\" Groce said. \"We'll self-evaluate. (five second pause) We need to do a better job. At some point, like it's that old deal I've shared with you guys before, it's like the Will Rogers quote. 'Some people learn by listening, seeing, doing or by peeing on the electric fence.' I'm tired of the last one. Next question.\"

After losing Nnanna Egwu and Rayvonte Rice -- hey they weren't so bad, huh? -- there are no defensive stoppers on the team. That points toward recruiting and why Illinois has made such an effort to land Xavier Sneed, and eventually prioritized signee Kipper Nichols). The Illini have too many weaknesses to exploit on that end. Mike Thorne Jr. was not a good individually defender, but he was large and an elite defensive rebounder. Maverick Morgan and Michael Finke are below-average defenders and were exposed by Zach Auguste. Sophomore forward Leron Black lacks height, but, more importantly, he lacks explosion right now as he continues to recover from meniscus surgery. Jaylon Tate is a smart and willing defender but lacks the strength to compete with top point guards. Khalid Lewis is an upgrade due to strength and athleticism but has struggled early on at times. Malcolm Hill relies on savvy more than quickness and athleticism. Kendrick Nunn can be the team's best defender but hasn't been consistent.

Illinois is playing like a tight team. Some of that has to do with newcomers, changing lineups due to injuries and uncertain roles. But FOX Sports analyst and former Colorado football player Joel Klatt had an interesting quote on Twitter yesterday.

Pressure keeps you focused - Stress keeps you tight...nobody performs their best tight, but everybody performs better while focused

— Joel Klatt (@joelklatt) December 4, 2015

Groce is always focused, always on, always intense. You wonder if that brings a tightness to the program when there are struggles. His team has lost eight of its last 11 games, including the final three games of last season (the first two with immense pressure to win the NCAA Tournament). The honeymoon period for Groce is over, and his staff feels the pressure. His players are playing a bit tight, which -- as Klatt said -- seems to be taking away some focus on the little things, like scouting reports.

When it comes to the future of Illinois basketball, the next athletic director must evaluate the big picture. Groce likely will miss his third NCAA Tournament. The program isn't progressing on the court, but injuries surely have played a small part of that. And yes, you can sympathize for Groce in that aspect but also understand that the program is not where it needs to be four years into the job. But even if Tracy Abrams and Mike Thorne Jr. return next season, four-fifths of the likely starting lineup graduates in 2017. Groce must show progress on the recruiting trail, and starting the 2017 class with a few big commits would help him immensely. Five-star Jeremiah Tilmon visited for Wednesday's loss to Notre Dame. He'd be the biggest Illini splash in recruiting in more than a decade, but he likely wouldn't be convinced to come to Illinois until a few other 2017 prospects are convinced to come to Illinois.

The coaching carousel is spinning fast, but it isn't as crazy as I'd envisioned -- mostly because the top jobs aren't stealing head coaches from elsewhere. USC kept interim head coach Clay Helton instead of going after the splashy hire. Georgia hired the best defensive coordinator candidate in the country, Alabama's Kirby Smart -- who had turned down multiple head coaching opportunities previously. Miami hired Georgia's old coach, Mark Richt, a Miami alum. LSU came to its senses and kept Les Miles. Missouri hired from within, promoting defensive coordinator Barry Odom. While there is a lot of movement, the carousel isn't quite as chaotic as we had assumed a few weeks ago.

\"Mid-majors\" have more resources than ever. And are more willing to open their wallets to keep good coaches. Houston reportedly is close to giving rising star coach Tom Herman a new contract that will pay him more than many power-five conference coaches. Toledo's new coach, Jason Candle, is making $650,000, more than Matt Campbell (now the Iowa State coach) made at Toledo ($495,000). Western Michigan reportedly may increase P.J. Fleck's contract, which already pays him a MAC-record $800,000 per season. I've said this before, but this allows some coaches to be a bit more picky about their big move up the ladder (a la Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens). Virginia Tech had to pony up $3.2 million to get Memphis coach Justin Fuente, who made $1.4 million annually with the Tigers.

Dino Babers reportedly has talked to a lot of programs, including Missouri, UCF and Syracuse. He seems intent on leaving Bowling Green (and upgrading his $400,000) annual salary -- even for less than \"ideal\" situations.

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