Bruce Weber has had great success at Illinois, especially his second year when he led the Illini to the National Championship game and was consensus National Coach Of The Year. Of course, he has had frustrating moments as well. After seven years, is he finally comfortable on the job?
"I guess adjusted would be a good word," Weber responds. "I'm not sure yet, in this level in this day and age, if you can ever feel comfortable. Everybody is aware of you. I'm not saying it's the biggest job in the nation, but it is definitely in the top 10 or so jobs in the country as far as notoriety.
"We are in a state with a lot of people. We have Chicago, which is one of the biggest cities in the world. We have one of the biggest alumni bases. So it doesn't matter where I go, there's always somebody that knows my face or knows me."
Life in a fish bowl may seem exciting to some, but one has little if any time to relax and enjoy life. And privacy is nearly impossible.
"It leaves you a little bit guarded. You've got to be always careful because you never know what's gonna get out or said about you. For me that's the toughest part because sometimes I just want to relax and have fun and be just a regular person. You don't maybe have that opportunity."
Some people find they aren't cut out for the job. The pressures become too much to bear. Others like Weber learn to embrace it and find ways of incorporating their own personality and self-interests into the role.
"I think I enjoy it here. It's taken awhile, but I believe people have accepted me. I think my role is more than just being a head coach. There's so much with this position that you can be involved with, from charities to helping people. I try to make it more than just being a basketball coach. People appreciate that."
Of course, the threat of job loss always hangs over the heads of coaches at the major college level. There is money to be made, so competition is fierce. There is little patience for failure. No head coach can go a day without thinking about it.
"We have to win games in the NCAA Tournament and Big 10 Championships," Weber admits. "We had a little bit of a lull or whatever, and we need to pick it up. I'm not naïve to that part of it."
Weber had a tough act to follow at Illinois. Bill Self won a lot of games in three years at the helm, and the smooth operator was easy to like. Some Illini retained a loyalty to him, especially the players he left behind.
Even those angered by Self's sudden departure to Kansas were accustomed to his style and friendly manner. Anyone following him would have to endure obvious comparisons.
Weber is every bit a coach as Self, if not moreso. But his personality is not as practiced or refined as his predecessor. He came across as more uncertain than the ever-confident Self when he first arrived. He appeared nervous to some, but in reality it was Weber's strong sense of responsibility that ate at him rather than doubt about his abilities.
"Anytime you take a new position, you're gonna have some nerves. I'll be honest I just coach, so I didn't think that. I think it was more I wanted to be accepted, accepted by the players but also accepted by the fans. That was the most difficult thing.
"And the media too. You have so much media coverage here. I think that's been the biggest adjustment for me from being an assistant at SIU to being here. The media coverage, the media scrutiny, just being accepted as a coach.
"I know you've got to win. They can like you, but if you don't win it doesn't do any good over the course of time. I think people have built up a respect, so it's made it easier for me."
Weber is always thinking basketball and how he can do things better. It pushes him to the point of exhaustion. No one will outwork him.
"I guess I'm a driven person. Every day I wake up and ask what I can do to help us being more successful recruiting. What we can do for our team. How can we get better?
"We have a chance to be very good, but a lot of that might be determined on how much we do this summer. So you are always looking for that edge.
"I think if I have a fault, it's that sometimes I probably don't get away from it, don't relax enough. It's hard for me to relax, to be honest."
This is the first of an eight part interview. In part two, Weber discusses all the responsibilities of his job.