I love coaching searches. But man do I hate coaching searches. And as the lead writer of a website with a subscription model, I usually avoid coaching searches like the plague. I'll write thousands of words about the coach once he's been hired, but until then, man, do I hate coaching searches.
I know it's weird, but I don't want to write very much during a coaching search. Demand for info is at an all-time high, and at times like that, writing a bunch of posts would feel like I'm trying to trick you into subscribing. I made a deal with you to offer the best Illini opinions and analysis, and after this coach is hired it will be opined and analyzed, but until then, I won't have much to say.
Besides, it's not like I have any inside info. I can't stand the world of I'M HEARING and I do everything I can to avoid it. I'm normally in the dark when it comes to Illini info (I don't read other columns or even Illini news articles), but at times like this, I avoid everything. I participate in one off-topic message board (The Deuce, see above), and if it's not talked about there, I pretty much don't know about it.
And I like it that way. Friends will text me saying "DO YOU THINK THIS BENNETT NEWS IS LEGIT??" and I have to respond that I honestly don't know what they're talking about. For the most part, I'm ignoring it all.
Why? Because I've been through so many of these. And I believed so many of the stories we were hearing from so many different sources. Until it got to the point where we all realized that none of it was true.
In fact, I participated in the Shaka Smart thing. Reports surfaced that Mike Thomas was interviewing Smart. We got all "oh boy oh boy oh boy" until a random tweet popped up that Shaka was out recruiting for VCU that very moment. I contacted the guy on Twitter and he told me that yes, Shaka had been to some open gym that morning. All of this belief that Shaka was interviewing/making a decision... and not one ounce of it was true.
But that didn't stop me. By Thursday/Friday of that same week, BRAD STEVENS WAS INTERVIEWING. Except he wasn't. He was fishing with his kids. No, seriously, he was fishing.
Over the years, it seems we've never really hired the big names that come up. The Bill Self search is the only one in the last 25 years where I remember his name as the big target and then landing him. To wit:
- 1996 Lon Kruger was completely out of nowhere. He had gone to the Final Four in 1994 but had followed that up with 17-13 and then 12-16, so his name didn't show up on any shortlists. Most of the focus was on whether Guenther would promote Jimmy Collins.
- 1996 Ron Turner was similar - a few college names were thrown around and then we hired the Bears offensive coordinator (whose name wasn't on any shortlists)
- 2000 Bill Self we already mentioned - after Kruger bolted for the NBA (in May, after the college coaching carousel had mostly stopped), his was the #1 name. (As an aside, it's always been odd to me that he was still sitting there. Third year coach takes Tulsa to the Elite Eight and nobody bites?)
- 2003 Bruce Weber was on some lists but further down. Dana Altman was the main name mentioned - Weber seemed to be mentioned simply because he was at an in-state mid-major. He occupied the spot that, say, Dan Muller occupies right now. Well, Dan Muller if he made the Tournament and then went to the Sweet 16.
- 2005 Ron Zook was out of nowhere. Happened fairly quickly so we barely had time to shortlist anyone but no one was really talking about hiring a coach who had just been fired.
- 2011 Beckman - this is embarrassing... I think I was the only one to shortlist him? Kevin Sumlin was #1 on the list (which included Butch Jones, Larry Fedora, and even NFL position coach Kirby Wilson). I put Beckman on my list because he seemed like the Thomas type (had won the MAC two years in a row, nearly beat Ohio State the year before).
- 2012 John Groce was not even mentioned at first. That first week was all Shaka/Stevens (much like it seems to be Bennett/Miller/Marshall now). Groce didn't even get a mention until he made the Sweet 16 that following weekend. And even then he was so much further down the list.
- 2016 Lovie, well, that one was completely out of the blue.
So as we navigate another search, I'd say it's highly likely (maybe 70% likely?) that no one has mentioned the name of our next coach yet. We get our hopes up on Gregg Marshall or Tony Bennett and then we land on someone like Seton Hall's Kevin Willard and it feels like a disappointment. And, I should note, even then we don't know much because a hire like Kruger was pretty much universally criticized by the fanbase (17-13 and 12-16 the two years prior to his hire), and that turned out pretty well for us.
Which means I'm approaching this search with even more caution than normal. When Athletic Directors decline to use a search firm, it's usually to keep a tight lid on all information. As I said in those emails with Tyler, I don't think we'll learn much (or even anything at all) until some coaches start to lose in the Tournament. And even then, smart money is still probably on the field instead of the 3-4 main names most commonly mentioned. And even THEN, we won't know much until we see how they scheme and recruit.
But that part - the "what does he bring?" part - that part will be analyzed here. To death. Top Three Breakout Players Under Gregg Marshall's Scheme articles here we come.