Illinois gave both head basketball coach Bruce Weber and assistant Jerrance Howard major bumps in pay recently. At a time when the economy is in shambles and many people are losing their jobs, a salary increase might seem unreasonable. But these men have earned their keep, and other schools would be paying them massive sums if Illinois didn't.
Speaking on WDWS radio last Saturday, Weber was humble about his own pay raise, which is more in line with what other top coaches are receiving. The new contract appears designed to keep Weber at Illinois for a long time, and it fits with his career goals.
"When it all gets approved, we'll be excited and hope we can stay at Illinois a long time and finish my career here. That's my goal. It's a long way off, and a lot of things can happen. Hopefully, we can continue making progress and have positive things happen in the program."
Even more important from Weber's perspective is a contract which hopefully can retain Howard for an extended period. He recently received feelers from at least two major college programs, and the Illini didn't want to lose someone who has upgraded recruiting and provided a youthful zest to the team.
"We're excited, and with Jerrance's situation, it's kind of how our business is. When you are courted by other people, it allows for negotiations and a chance to move up.
"He had some schools calling, and we are excited Mr. (Ron) Guenther would step up. He wanted to make sure Jerrance was part of the program. This all has to be approved by the Board of Trustees of course. It was a long-term deal, so he kind of went outside of the box a little bit. So that's positive."
Weber understands how some might object to his and Howard's high salaries, but he is explains it is the nature of the business at this time. You have to compete off the court as well as on it.
"Yeah, if you want to keep up with everything. Whether you say it's right, wrong or indifferent, it is what's happening. Illinois basketball is important to a lot of people, and Jerrance is definitely a part of that. We're hoping he can stay with us a long time, until he gets a head coaching job. I think that was the goal of the contract.
"Last year Marquette called, and we gave him a little bit of a bump. We don't want to go through that every year, where we have to worry about Jerrance being courted."
Weber and his staff had previous connections with each of the four athletes who will be enrolling at Illinois for the fall semester. Howard helped in their recruitment, especially with fellow Peorian D.J. Richardson. Howard may be given more credit than he deserves for these fine players, but he has helped upgrade recruiting for the 2010 class and those that follow. Weber is glad he hired him.
"The way we felt as a staff at the time, (he brings) a little bit of youthfulness, energy, charisma, all those things. And we wanted somebody who's gonna be loyal and work hard. It's truly what Jerrance is about.
"I always say it was one of the best moves I've made when I got here. One was keeping Wayne McClain, and then Wayne came to me and said the previous staff was gonna let Jerrance go. We didn't have any seniors, and we made that decision (to keep him on the team for a fifth year). It fitted us then, and I think it fitted us now. So we feel good about that. Loyalty is so important, and he is loyal to Illinois and appreciates it."
Weber also confirmed that graduated senior Chester Frazier will remain at the UI as a Student Assistant. This will be an excellent opportunity both for Frazier and the Illini team.
"That's been okayed. The NCAA over the years has gradually cut out the entry level positions. That's how I got in. The one entry position they have is the Student Assistant, a former player who can stay one more year and be a coach if he has a year left.
"So it's a nice avenue for Chester. He wants to get into coaching. It's great timing for us because we don't really have too many seniors, and I'm not sure they're going to be leaders. So he can be like Jerrance was my first year. A little bit of a coach, a little bit of a friend, and help say the right things in the locker room.
"He can be here in the summer too, helping the guys by getting them involved and working hard, doing the things the way we want them done right from the start. It's really important for us, there's no doubt."
Weber leaves this week for Europe. His popularity extends beyond US boundaries.
"I'm going to Poland and Germany. Poland is hosting the European championships later in the summer, and they were gonna have a clinic to kick it off. About a year ago through Athletes In Action, that's done a lot of promoting of basketball and Christianity throughout the world, they asked me to be part of it. I like doing those things, and I like to travel.
"A year ago, I asked my wife if she wanted to go, and she was all excited. Now, she decided she doesn't want to go. I'm just gonna make a quick trip over, do a couple days in Poland with the clinic, and then move over to Germany. I'll do a clinic in Berlin. They love basketball over there, and it's a great experience."