Illinois Athletic Director Ron Guenther offered a new contract extension to Bruce Weber recently that will extend his stay at Illinois at least until the 2014-15 season and increase his pay to be more competitive with other top-rated college basketball coaches. Weber is appreciative of the support and expanded on his earlier response to the contract news.
"Obviously, anytime you get an extension it's a big step, and it's exciting. Mr. Guenther has talked about doing it since last year. He lived up to his word.
"For me, it's the number of years. You hope you'll have the opportunity to stay here. If we continue to do well, I'd love to finish my career here. I think this extension will get me pretty close to that. We're happy for everybody in the program."
Weber is the kind of person who prefers the hectic pace of a college basketball coach to an early retirement.
"I'm pretty hyper, so I don't know if I could just sit around and cut the grass and play golf, to be honest. It depends on your health and how the program's doing. Hopefully, early 60's (for retirement).
"It's a tough business because guys rarely go out on their own accord the way they should go out. So I hope I have some smarts that, when it comes to that time, hopefully a ways away, that you can make the move on your own. But you leave the program in a good position, at least where it was when you started and maybe even better if we're fortunate."
Weber enjoys travel, which is fortunate considering the nature of his job. And he is one of the hardest workers when it comes to recruiting. He hasn't always been successful at recruiting, but he appears to have righted a listing ship in recent times.
"We had some tough times in the middle there with recruiting, but one thing I try to do with my life is stay positive and do what I do. I got into coaching to work with kids and watch their improvement and progress. If you focus on that, it kind of takes care of itself. I'm very fortunate to be here at Illinois and have the opportunities I've had."
Among those who Weber failed to recruit was Chicago Simeon superstar Derrick Rose, who matriculated to Memphis for one year before joining the Chicago Bulls. Rose is now in the middle of a grade-changing and cheating scandal involving Memphis. Weber has been asked about his knowledge of the Rose case, but he has little to share.
"You never want anyone to have problems. It's not good for the game of basketball. We'll just have to wait and see how the whole thing unfolds. Until then, I don't really know if I can say anything. I don't really know anything, to be honest."
Several superstar high school prospects have shunned their state university in recent times amid speculation of possible cheating by other schools. Whether true or not, academic fraud and financial illegalities are a part of the sport. Regardless, Weber remains an idealist.
"I don't think this is something that is brand new. It's been around forever. Obviously, when you sign a kid you want him to qualify. There's problems in all walks of life, politics, business, banking, Wall Street. And our game's not perfect either. You hope for the business of college basketball everything is done right."
Assistant coach Jerrance Howard was also given a pay raise and four year contract to stay at Illinois. He has been receiving feelers from other schools, and the Illini wanted to keep an important asset on staff.
"I appreciate Mr. Guenther doing what he felt was important to the program and keeping Jerrance here. I think that was important. Jerrance has been a valuable member of the staff. He's created some excitement and brought some youth. Those things have been positive.
"We had people talking to him last year and this year. That's where the long-term thing came about. We don't want to go through this every year. Who's courting him now?
"For Jerrance, it's a great opportunity at a young age to have a long-term deal. Now when people call, he can say, 'I have this four year deal, and I'm not gonna even talk to you.' And that was kind of the goal of the whole thing.
"But it's important to understand that everyone on our staff is very valuable. Jerrance has gotten a little more pub than some other guys, but the other guys have been the backbone of the program. Coach (Wayne) McClain, Coach (Jay) Price, Coach (Gary) Nottingham and now Coach (Sean) Harrington.
"If we're gonna be successful, we need everybody doing their part. I think we have a good mix as a staff. I'm no better than the people around me, and I need those guys to be motivated. Hopefully, that will continue in the future."
Weber also discussed his recent trip to Poland and Germany to teach basketball clinics.
"I really enjoyed the trip. I enjoy travel and seeing parts of the world. I've been so fortunate because of basketball to learn about other people. You've got so many problems in the world, wars and all that, and it seems basketball supercedes all that. It's good will for our country.
"The coaches were very appreciative. You learn so much just to visit with the coaches, not only about basketball but about life. Poland, a country that was under Communist rule 20 years ago, fighting to improve as a country. So that was an enjoyable thing. Tough travel and accommodations, but it was worth it.
"And then I got a chance to do a clinic in Germany. It was a little easier, a little nicer circumstances. When you get on the plane you go, 'Why did I do this.' But once you get back, I think it's a rewarding experience. For me, it's things I never thought I'd have an opportunity to do. I've been able to do it because of basketball."
Another unusual opportunity made possible by basketball was Weber's singing of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" at the seventh inning stretch of a Chicago Cubs baseball game as part of Illini Day. Weber spoke about his apprehension of singing before many thousands of fans prior to the event.
"To me it's the most intimidating thing. I just went to Poland and spoke with an interpreter to coaches who I didn't know whether they knew what the heck I was saying. But to stand up there and sing that song is definitely intimidating.
"I learned the second time I did it, don't look down at the crowd. Just blank it out and sing and hope it doesn't sound too bad. It's a fun opportunity, and hopefully I don't embarrass the state and university."
From all accounts, Weber acquitted himself well. Like a fine wine, Weber appears to improve with age. And the University of Illinois continues to be the beneficiary.