Illinois coach Bruce Weber hired Gary Nottingham in 2003 as the Assistant To The Head Coach. A friend of Weber's since serving as a grad assistant at Western Kentucky, the Glenville State graduate found the position appealing.
Nottingham had been his own boss at Division II schools Glenville State and the University Of South Carolina--Spartanburg, and he enjoyed success at both places. But he wanted new challenges. He explains.
"I was a Division II coach. It was fun. I coached great kids, but it is hard. People have no idea how hard it is. Everybody at this level (Division I) gets a plane, they get on TV. There are tons of great coaches, coaches nobody has ever heard of. So it's tough to move to the level you want. You've got to get lucky.
"I was at a point in my career where you had to take a chance to get to Division I, to create other opportunities down the road. I had pursued it a couple other times but came up short in a couple situations. And in a couple other situations, I just didn't want to work with the guy involved.
"For 19 years, I called my own shots and did what I wanted to. To change from that, you've got to be going to someone you trust or believe in, and someone you can work with. We won championships at Spartanburg, we had great success at Glenville, but I had gone about as far as I could go."
Most Illinois fans have never heard of Glenville State or Spartanburg. Those schools don't play in the NCAA Tournament or showcase their talents on television. But there are some outstanding coaches and programs at Division II schools. Nottingham was one of them.
"At Glenville, we were probably one of the ten smallest programs in Division II basketball. We gave four scholarships in 14 years, we had 10 tuition waivers. And we won 200 games. We were one of the four top winningest programs with the lowest budget in the league.
"People say you have to win championships, but sometimes you have to define your success by being better than what you're supposed to be. We were better than we were supposed to be more years than not.
"And we had some great players. We had a kid that led the country in scoring. We had a kid who was a pro draft choice. We had four kids play in Europe. Probably 15-20 of my ex-players are high school and college coaches."
The West Virginia native was pleased with his accomplishments, but he wanted something more. That dream led him back to Weber. At the time of his hire at Illinois, he was not allowed to recruit but was still permitted to coach, something he wanted.
"There were a lot of good things, but I still wanted to take a shot at this level. And technically when I came here, my position was allowed to be on the floor. Seven years ago, this position was on the floor and did a lot more things.
"So I came here because Coach and I were on the same level, we had the same philosophy and same ideas, we talked about a lot of the same things, so we knew each other very well. During his five years in Carbondale, we talked probably weekly. So it was a no-brainer for me personally, financially, and for my family."
Nottingham understands every aspect of college coaching, so he has been an outstanding resource for Weber.
"I came in from a basketball administrative standpoint. When I came here, we talked about how I could help with the teaching, drills and practice organization. And then video work. So a lot of it was to take advantage of my head coaching experience.
"When I was a head coach at the Division II level, I did the organization and administration of the budget, I spent the budget, I hired the staff, I did the scholarships, I did the academics and turned in the eligibility forms. Also, I ran the camps, drove the bus, I set up the overnight lodging, I did the meals.
"So everything that goes on I did every year. I also taught 6 hours of classes at the University so they could pay me more money. You wear so many hats, so that fit this new position. And not being a Midwest guy, coming in to recruit would have been tough. From his standpoint it was the right thing, and I have no problem with it.
"If I had been a head coach at Indiana and Missouri my whole life, then I wouldn't buy that. But you're changing regions of the country. It was a logical move, and it was the only position where I could be a benefit."
Nottingham realizes his window of opportunity to land another head coaching position is narrowing with each passing year. Still, he would love a chance like Illinois gave Weber.
"It's probably lasted longer than I really thought it would. Some days I still want to be a head coach, but people are not dying to get guys my age. Ironically, all the people who are having success at all levels are my age.
"It's hard for a school like Illinois to get a guy with as much experience as (Coach Weber) had. There wouldn't have been a lot of coaches they could have found with more Big 10 experience and success and also had head coaching success."
Part 2 of this four part series will discuss the particulars of his role at Illinois.