NOTEBOOK: Underwood, Whitman 'hit it off'

Details on how Whitman landed Brad Underwood, the Illini coach's salary, his first addition to the roster and how he will fill his staff

Josh Whitman said Brad Underwood had been at the top of his list from the moment he started looking for John Groce’s replacement.

Whitman just wasn’t sure  he’d be able to land the Oklahoma State coach after just one season in Stillwater.

“Last Wednesday, we picked up the phone and called Brad’s representative,” Whitman said at Monday's introductory press conference of Underwood as the 18th men's basketball coach. “We were thrilled to learn that the University of Illinois has long been a destination location for Coach Underwood.”

Whitman said that there were no direct forms of communication with Underwood until Saturday morning – the day after Underwood’s Oklahoma State squad lost a 92-91 heartbreaker to Michigan in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“We hit it off,” Whitman said. “We have a lot of shared values. Shared expectations. Shared dreams about what this basketball program can and should look like.”

Added Underwood: “For me, it was no decision. I felt like this was an elite program. As Josh and I visited, that resonated with me.”

Salary, staff pool details

Underwood's contract will pay him $2.75 million salary for his first season at the helm of Illinois basketball. The contract is structured where it’ll increase by 100,000 annually over the six total years. So in total, it’s a six-year, $18 million dollar contract. Whitman’s financial commitment to Underwood makes him the third highest paid coach in the Big Ten, behind only Tom Izzo from Michigan State and Thad Matta from Ohio State. Underwood will be one of the higher paid coaches in the country and his salary will be higher than Shaka Smart of Texas, Jay Wright of Villanova and even Jim Boeheim of Syracuse.

Whitman will supply him with the Big Ten's biggest assistant salary pool: $850,000 allocated for three on-court assistant coaches -- which could be extremely significant to keeping Illini interim coach and top recruiter Jamall WalkerWhitman also supplied Underwood with $550,000 pool for six support staff members.

Underwood adds first recruit: his son

Underwood announced that his son, Tyler, will transfer to Illinois and will join the basketball team. The redshirt-freshman played under his father as a walk-on for one year at Stephen F. Austin and again for one season at Oklahoma State.

He averaged 21.0 points per game for Nacogdoches High School before suffering an ACL injury his senior year.

“Tyler is a combo guard,“ Underwood said. “He’s very cerebral. He’s a very good shooter. He is a wonderful young man and a future coach. Every single day at practice, I get to go see my son. That’s something very special and it’s sure not something I take for granted.”

Whitman, Underwood two peas in a pod

Without a doubt, it’s easy to see that Whitman loves his new basketball coach. Both Whitman and Underwood are driven, focused, and high-energy leaders. “Let me tell you what I love about Brad Underwood,” Whitman said. “First of all, he’s a proven winner. If you look at what his teams have done, it’s nothing short of remarkable.”

Whitman coined his #WeWillWin mantra 13 months ago, and it quickly spread across Illini Nation. Underwood was quick to bring it up as one of the reason’s he was attracted to Illinois.

“The #WeWillWin is what I’m about,” Underwood said. “Winning and losing effects my personal life. It’s important. When you have your boss believe that and the commitment that they make to make it successful in all sports, that’s very appealing.”

Oklahoma State departure

Underwood led Oklahoma State back to the NCAA tournament and they finished with a 20-13 record. Although they started 0-6 in the Big 12, they won nine out of their final 12 regular season games to finish with a 9-9 conference record.

Despite only coaching at Oklahoma State for one year and reports that he wasn't happy with the investment from OSU athletic director Mike Holder, Underwood had high praise for his previous employer.

“It’s a wonderful institution,” Underwood said. “I leave there with my head held high. They’re going to get a terrific basketball coach. That program is going to continue to move forward and I thoroughly enjoyed my year there and I wish them nothing but success.”

Filling the staff

A top priority on Underwood's current to-do list will be to try and keep Walker, but he is adamant that he will be patient with the process of acquiring his coaching staff. Underwood said he will wait until Illinois’ NIT run is over before he gets into serious discussion with Walker about a potential job.

“I’ll have a conversation with Jamall,” Underwood said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the job that he is doing in a hard situation. That’s not easy. To get a win and continue moving forward, that’s very impressive. We won’t have a good staff, we’ll have a great staff.”

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