Stop Staying It

Mar 05, 2017

Here I am, in Boston, having been to an amazing memorial service for my cousin yesterday (seriously amazing), having not watched one minute of the Rutgers game, now having 45 minutes to write... and I want to talk about Bruce Weber. No, really. That's what is on my mind this morning.

I honestly don't know one detail about the Rutgers game. I don't think I even checked the score until two hours after it ended. After the memorial service there was a long reception with friends, family, and faculty who knew my cousin and I was spending too much time discussing Tim to even want to know the score. Which is, in itself, a testament to my cousin. I was so enthralled/enamored with the day that the Illini score - an Illini score that probably puts us in or out of the tournament - didn't matter. I'm as surprised as you are.

I checked the score later, saw that we lost, checked the end of the play-by-play to see how it ended, and that's it. I think I might treat this one like the Mizzou games of old - I prefer to not know anything about what happened. We're out now, and we're not going to win three BTT games to get back in, and that's that. Had our chance and blew it. The end, most likely.

But this morning, I read how our former coach continues to say that he presided over "the best nine year run at Illinois" (in making his case to the media to save his job at Kansas State) and I just can't take it. If you want to know why I was screaming "Fire Weber" five years ago but have not uttered those words towards John Groce, this is it. As long as a coach stands up in front of the media, doesn't bus-toss his players, and owns the losses as his fault, I'm good with him until the moment he is fired. If he lies - like, LIES - then get away from my school.

I had several Weber supporters reach out to me in January looking for a mea culpa. I went after Weber, and Groce is, in their estimation, "clearly" worse than Weber, so why would I not go after Groce? Shouldn't I apologize for asking that Weber be fired?

Right or wrong, this is my answer: Yes, I hate that Groce has been unable to turn things around despite having every single thing working in his favor this season (roster, experience, schedule, everything). But I've remained in his corner, so to speak, because he's owned it. He's asked that the hate be directed at him, not his players. He stood up, and I can respect that.

Five years later, Bruce Weber continues to make excuses for himself. And I do not respect that. To wit:

But for now, Weber is standing in this hallway, a defense of his coaching record growing louder and louder and louder, to the point that he is nearly screaming, the voice a doctor told him as a kid would mean no jobs where he had to scream bouncing off the walls.

"Every year you're coaching for your job," he says. "I've been part of the greatest run in Purdue history. I've been part of the greatest run in Southern Illinois history.

"I've been at Illinois, the best nine-year run. When was the last team to win an outright Big Ten championship at Illinois? I'm the only one (since 1952). And not one, two times. Who's the only coach to take them to the national championship game? Me. So it is what it is."

He has said this so many times over the past five years. "The best nine-year run at Illinois". It's a lie. He's making it up. And I cannot even when someone makes things up regarding Illini basketball history. I write articles like this because our history is our greatest asset, so when the person who took that epic 25-year run and drove it into a ditch tries to take credit for having the "best" run, steam shoots out of my ears.

Here are the stats. Bruce Weber was 210-101 at Illinois (which, I fully acknowledge, is far beyond what John Groce has accomplished; Weber was handed Dee/Deron/Augie as sophomores, but that's another topic). 210-101 is not, in any way, our best "nine year run". Because teams play 3-4 more games per season now, it's close to our best total of wins, but it doesn't even reach that mark. Here are the stats:

  • Bruce Weber was 210-101 (.675) in his nine seasons. This included 6 NCAA Tournaments in 9 years.
  • Lou Henson was 214-76 (.737) from 1982-83 to 1990-91. This included 8 NCAA Tournaments in 9 years (the 9th year also being a Tournament year but the Bruce Pearl sanctions prevented a Tournament bid.)

So maybe we should look at those sanctions, right? Maybe we shouldn't say those were our "best" nine years because the ninth year was a sanctions year. OK, let's look at 1980-81 through 1988-89:

  • Bruce Weber was 210-101 (.675) in his nine seasons. This included 6 NCAA Tournaments in 9 years.
  • Lou Henson was 211-82 (.720) from 1980-81 to 1988-89. This included 8 NCAA Tournaments in 9 years.

There's no metric that matches Weber's whitewashing. And, AND, it does not acknowledge the most important narrative of all: he inherited a top-5 program at the time with a Final Four roster. Once Bill Self's players were gone, with his own team, the narrative completely changes. In fact, it looks a lot like our current situation:

  • Bruce Weber was 98-73 in his final five seasons.
  • John Groce is 91-73 in his five seasons.

THAT'S the story. THAT's the truth. Bruce Weber took the program to that level, John Groce has been unable to rebuild it. That's it. The end. That's the narrative. There is no alternate truth.

And, if we're honest, Groce is a tiny step below. Bruce had two NCAA Tournament appearances on those final five years, Groce has one. They both had 73 losses but Weber had 7 more wins. If Groce makes the NIT and makes the quarterfinals (which is how Weber got to 21 wins in 2010), they'll almost be identical.

Which is our entire story. Henson built a monster, but Bruce Pearl's sanctions tainted his final five seasons; Kruger rebuilt it, Self took it right to the top, Weber drove it off a cliff, Groce keeps trying to climb the hill and keeps sliding right back to the bottom (and now we're stuck in the mud). 40 years of Illini Basketball in one sentence.

And yet, in attempting to save his next job, Bruce Weber continues to lie about his tenure at Illinois. He continues to claim he presided over our "best nine-year run". It's just not true.



DB50 on March 05 @ 06:02 AM CST

I'm not surprised Bruce Weber keeps using his "alternative facts" to try to save his job at K-State. I do like JFG and respect his passion in leading & honesty in accepting the blame for the losses and not placing it on the student athletes. I was dead wrong in assessing the Illini would win yesterday. I drank the "kool-aid"(perhaps maybe, wanted to really believe) that they had turned the corner and would win 6-7 in a row and make the Big Dance. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Josh Whitman's decisiveness & insightful leadership will again be needed come Monday, March 13th, to solve the "Rubix Cube" that is winning Illinois Basketball.

Joe Edge on March 05 @ 06:39 AM CST

I'm old, and not tech savvy anymore.... where can I find the stats for B1G conference wins for each coach ?

Bear8287 on March 05 @ 06:46 AM CST

If you're just looking for Illinois coaches, the Complete 2016-2017 Record Book, which you can download from this site in pdf format, is a really good resource.

Groundhogday on March 05 @ 07:27 AM CST

1) Looking at Kenpom numbers, which adjust for strength of schedule, Groce's five years are decidedly worse than Weber's post-DeeBrown years.

2) Weber was handed a program clicking on all cylinders, did a fantastic job with the talent he inherited (no guarantee Self takes that team to the final four), then utterly failed to recruit well enough to maintain more than NCAA alternate-year success.

3) Groce has been here for five years. Why are we still talking about Weber?

larue on March 05 @ 01:46 PM CST

Pretty obviously, because he won't stop talking about us.

Groundhogday on March 06 @ 12:47 AM CST

So what if he talks about us. So does Zook. It doesn't matter.

larue on March 06 @ 01:16 AM CST

I haven't seen anything from Zook recently, nor have I seen any posts about him. You don't have to be bothered by what Weber says, a lot of people are.

Groundhogday on March 05 @ 07:31 AM CST

Perhaps worth adding: I'd take Groce over Weber to be the face of the program and school, and it isn't remotely a tough call. If only Groce could coach basketball.

ATOillini on March 05 @ 07:46 AM CST

So......We're 189-146 in the last 10 years? That's only 4.3 games/year above .500 on average. And how many games per year are supposed to be absolute gimmes? Sobering numbers.

Bear8287 on March 05 @ 07:57 AM CST

Well with 10 years, the math is easy. That's like an average season of 18.9-14.6.

Unless the Illini win any of the likely next two tournaments that they'll be playing in that means that there will be another two losses and that number would go to 148.

How many more wins? If there are also 2 then that would be 191, so 191-148 -> 19.1-14.8 or roughly 19-15. If it pans out that way, then the Illini would finish the season 20-15 or really close to about the average for the past ten seasons.

Welcome to the new "normal".

orangejulius on March 05 @ 07:54 AM CST

Several experts have already written it. For the result of one game, or two games if you include the first round of the big ten tournament, to flip the switch from fire to retain, is highly illogical. Josh Whitman is too smart for that. I trust that the decision on John Groce was made pre-Rutgers. The names mentioned in the media or on message boards thus far - they fail to excite me. If you replace John Groce for Cuonzo Martin, for example, you are making a change just to make a change.

I like talking about Bruce Weber because he was responsible for placing us in the place we are today. Not only did Bruce prefer to shift blame to others, but also he was unable to inspire his players. Many players seemed to dislike him. He couldn't sell the university. His strategy was conservative and predictable (for ex. never using a zone defense). That 2005 team had 4 NBA draft picks on it. You give most D-I coaches 4 draft picks and they will succeed. We've had how many since then? One. One! Meyers Leonard would be it, in 2012. We saw what Weber was able to do with lesser rosters.

Groundhogday on March 05 @ 08:08 AM CST

Correct. Groce should be fired for his cumulative poor results over five seasons. No way should he have been retained for squeaking into the NCAA tournament against weak field.

orangejulius on March 05 @ 08:12 AM CST

Wrong. That kind of thinking is what will keep us in the situation we're in. You only fire Groce if you believe another coach, who you can convince to take the job, gives you a better chance to win in the future. Comparing Groce's first 5 years with Bruce Weber's, is ridiculous. Circumstances completely different.

Groundhogday on March 05 @ 08:15 AM CST

Wrong. Your kind of thinking will keep us EXACTLY in the situation we're in.

I compared Groce's first five years with Weber's success after Self recruits had departed. Perfectly fair comparison. Or we can compare Groce's penultimate season (5 years to recruit his guys, install his system) to Weber's worst season. Virtually identical.

larue on March 05 @ 01:52 PM CST

You fire Groce if you think he's not the right guy to lead the program. Who you can hire as a replacement is not a factor.

iluvrt on March 05 @ 01:55 PM CST

Continue the bald nut hug. Groce should be cooked goose. Time for a new gander. You don't keep the chef if the restaurant is failing because of bad food.

Groundhogday on March 05 @ 08:10 AM CST

I like talking about Bruce Weber because he was responsible for placing us in the place we are today.

You like talking about Weber because you can't defend Groce.

Bear8287 on March 05 @ 08:11 AM CST

to flip the switch from fire to retain, is highly illogical.

Yes, and that is why in the minds of most fans that switch had never been flipped. It was firmly stuck in the "fire" position.

I like talking about Bruce Weber because he was responsible for placing us in the place we are today.

Bruce Weber was responsible for placing the program where it was 5 years ago. John Groce is responsible for placing the program where it is today.

Not only did Bruce prefer to shift blame to others...

Hmmm, doesn't that statement coming from you seem even at least a bit ironic? (Like say shifting blame from Groce to Weber for example.)

but also he was unable to inspire his players.

and you're saying that Groce is better? Do you actually watch any of the Illini basketball games? Whole season on the line. Senior-laden team. Coach's job on the line? Holy Cr@p! What more motivation should be needed? And yet there it is; a road loss to worst team (by far) in the B1G to virtually eliminate any chance for Malcolm and Mav to ever play in an NCAA tourney game during their collegiate careers as ball players.

Groundhogday on March 05 @ 08:18 AM CST

And Rutgers wasn't the low point. Every so often you will lose to a weak but inspired league opponent on the road. Losing to PSU at home? Getting blown out repeated against solid-but-not-great teams? Losing to Winthrop at home?

How the heck could Groce so completely fail to inspire his team for most of this season? Mind boggling.

Groundhogday on March 05 @ 08:07 AM CST

  • 43.5 - Weber mean Kenpom ranking post Self recruits
  • 69.6 - Groce mean Kenpom ranking at Illinois
  • 55.8 - Groce mean Kenpom ranking w/o 2015-16 season (but giving him credit for winning with Weber's recruits in 2013)

Our current Kenpom ranking of 72 is the third worst since 2002, only lower than 2016 (125) and 2012 (76) -- remarkably similar to the year that got Weber fired.

So as long as we are being objective can we stop saying that Weber drove the program into the ditch and Groce failed to get us out of the ditch? Weber drove us onto the shoulder. Groce took us into the ditch.

The only reason Groce's record doesn't look worse is that the B1G hasn't been particularly strong during his five years at Illinois.

Bear8287 on March 05 @ 08:17 AM CST

Yes, that seems to be the consensus. Weber took us off the highway and Groce drove it into the mud/ditch.

Robert writes:

Weber drove it off a cliff, Groce keeps trying to climb the hill and keeps sliding right back to the bottom (and now we're stuck in the mud).

HailToTheOrange mentioned in a post here:

It sucks that (as one commentor put it) our program went from driving on the highway w/ Self/Kruger to exiting it for back country roads after two years with Webber to the car being driven into a deep dark ditch w/ Groce.

In another article that I've previously referenced, Matt Norlander wrote:

This team has the talent to be a top-36 at-large candidate this year. I know that. Groce knows that. But you could've said that about other Illinois teams, too, and in general this program is mired in mud. Illinois should not be considered a weaker team than Illinois State, yet that's exactly what it is right now.

Groundhogday on March 05 @ 08:26 AM CST

Our current Kenpom ranking of 72 is the third worst since 2002

I keep coming back to this. What possible excuse is there to have an historically poor showing in year 5? With a deep, veteran team and few injuries? Even Iowa is ahead of us, with an incredibly inexperienced team. Good coaches recruit the players they need, and teach them to play a certain way. Groce hasn't done that. He hasn't even done it at a top-40 level, much less the top-20 level that this program consistently occupied for decades.

Groundhogday on March 05 @ 09:20 AM CST

My concern isn't just with giving Groce another year. I'm concerned about giving Groce 3+ more years.

  • Next year we return no all-B1G players, 3 starters, 2 contributors, 1 bench warmer. We add one top-30 big, one borderline top-100 combo, and two athletic project recruits. Even if Groce signs Mark Smith (no guarantee), we won't be favored to make the NCAA tournament.
  • But if you retain Groce this season so he can coach the incoming class, how do you not retain him after next season, when you know it will be a struggle to coach up so many freshmen?
  • And then in 2018-19, with everyone back, we almost certainly make the tournament. You can't let him go after finally making the NCAA tournament, even if we finish 5th in the B1G, right? That is the break through season.
  • In 2019-20, Tilmon goes pro, Finke/JCL/Black leave, and we struggle a bit. But he has some good recruits coming in so you hang on, right?

Add in the need to extend Groce every year so he isn't a lame duck, and you never get off the Groce mediocrity treadmill. Years of finishing in the middle of the B1G pack, and maybe somewhere along the way if we stick with Groce for a decade everything comes together and we get a suprising NCAA run to the sweet 16 with a team that finished 5th in the B1G. Is this our program ambition?

Bear8287 on March 05 @ 09:38 AM CST

And then in 2018-19, with everyone back, we almost certainly make the tournament.

Well, I guess you did say almost certainly. ;-)

But that's the problem. Groce teams almost certainly should do a lot of things that they do not.

Not only does JW have to extend him if he's kept, JW will also have to pay him an additional $500K bonus just because he'd be coming back.

Groundhogday on March 05 @ 10:40 AM CST

The other way to look at this is to ask, which recent B1G hires have done worse than Groce?

  • Chris Collins - Clearly more successful. NW in worse shape, has them in NCAA his fourth year despite major injuries, most players return next year.
  • Fran McCaffrey - Took over program in much worse shape, had them in NCAAs by year 4, and every year since.
  • Richard Pitino - Inherited program similar to Groce. Struggled for three years, but in NCAA tourney easily by year 4.
  • Tim Miles. Took over crap program and surprised with NCAA bid in year 2. But hasn't been able to sustain that success, UNL returning to their level.
  • Pat Chambers. Inherited basement program, has failed to launch in six years.
  • Tom Crean. Inherited program after neutron bomb. Sweet 16 in years 4, 5 and 8. Struggling with injuries this year, but clearly ahead of Groce as a program builder.
  • John Beilein. Inherited mess, NCAA tourney in years 2, 4, 5 before championship game in year 6.
  • Mark Turgeon. Inherited program similar to Groce. Tourney in Year 4, sweet 16 in Year 5.

Hard to understand thinking that it is really hard to find a good coach. Other programs, with no more history, tradition or recruiting advantages than Illinois pull it off. I'll grant that finding a coach capable of elevating a basement program (e.g. Illinois when Henson took over) is a tall order. But there are plenty of coaches capable of taking Illinois to NCAA tournaments on a fairly regular basis.

Why can't we hire a Mark Turgeon? Tom Crean? John Beilein? Chris Collins? Or even Fran McCaffrey?

Groundhogday on March 05 @ 10:56 AM CST

B1G coaches better than Groce (includes consideration of state of program inherited for new coach):

  • Tom Izzo, Michigan State
  • John Beilein, Michigan
  • Thad Matta, Ohio State
  • Mark Turgeon, Maryland
  • Fran McCaffery, Iowa
  • Tom Crean, Indiana
  • Matt Painter, Purdue
  • Chris Collins, Northwestern
  • ? Greg Gard, Wisconsin (can he maintain Ryan success)
  • ? Richard Pitino, Minnesota (one year flash?)

Guys who took over historically awful programs, hard to compare:

  • Tim Miles, Nebraska
  • Pat Chambers, Penn State
  • Steve Pikiell, Rutgers

Doesn't seem all that hard to do better than Groce.

Bear8287 on March 05 @ 11:21 AM CST

Groce's teams have finished about where he ranks in the conference coaching pecking order.

5 years and a 9th place finish. That somehow feels about right. Doesn't strike me as the type of guy who'd ever win a B1G regular season conference championship and if that's the case, why is there even any discussion about whether or not he's coaching at Illinois next year?

Groundhogday on March 05 @ 11:35 AM CST

With sufficient talent, Groce could finish in the 3-5 range. That might be his ceiling. But even the best coaches, barring those at blue blood programs, have that kind of talent/experience on a regular basis.

Bear8287 on March 05 @ 01:07 PM CST

Actually, the 2-5 range this year in the B1G was 12-10 wins. He already had that kind of talent and finished 9th.

11 wins was so doable this year. Just beat the bottom feeders Rutgers and Penn State and there's 3 more wins. How about a home win against Wisconsin, Maryland or Minnesota? Win just one of those with the other 3 and the Illini are 12-6, in second place and Groce is a hero. It was so there for the taking.

The top four finishers in the league were Purdue, Maryland, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Illini went 0-5 against those teams and what an absolute gift that they only had to play one of those teams twice. Again, so there for the taking.

So if Groce had B1G championship caliber talent then maybe in the 3-5 range? :-/

Groundhogday on March 05 @ 02:12 PM CST

Because I'm a kenpom guy:

  • 13 Purdue x1 (road)
  • 22 Wisconsin x1 (at home)
  • 27 Michigan x2
  • 33 Minnesota x1 (at home)
  • 35 Northwestern x2
  • 38 Maryland x2
  • 46 Indiana x1 (road)
  • 50 Michigan St. x1 (home)
  • 65 Iowa x2
  • 69 Ohio St. x1 (home)
  • 82 Penn St. x2
  • 93 Nebraska x1 (road)
  • 129 Rutgers x1 (road)

We played both the best and the worst teams only once. But overall, no really strong teams this year, and we couldn't pull any kind of a major upset, unless you consider beating NW twice with their main guy out/recovering a major upset. And a few times we were upset.

Strange thing is how bad we were offensively this year. One of the worst in the league, despite having Morgan inside, Hill on the wing, and a surplus of shooters. We are #111 in offensive efficiency! I could understand why we don't have a dominant defensive team given the overall lack of athleticism (#44), but run a decent offense and this team could score!

Bear8287 on March 05 @ 02:59 PM CST

Morgan scored with 07:00 left to make the score 54-49.

I found it concerning when Lucas was pulled with his 4th foul with almost 6 minutes left. The Illini offense really seems to go into another out-of-sync mode without Lucas on the floor. In those last 7 minutes, the Illini made only one shot from the floor and were outscored 5-13.

  • 05:54 Foul, Sub Out Lucas (Illini up 54-51)
  • 05:26 Miss 3PTR, Coleman-Lands
  • 05:11 Illini down 54-55
  • 04:40 Good 3PTR, Hill (Illini up 57-55)
  • 04:04 Miss 3PTR, Hill
  • 02:41 Miss 3PTR, Hill
  • 02:17 Sub In Lucas
  • 01:50 Miss Layup, Morgan
  • 01:37 Miss 3PTR, Hill
  • 01:09 2 Good FT, Morgan
  • 00:36 Miss Layup, Abrams
  • 00:03 Miss 3PTR, Abrams

First, it shouldn't have been a 5 point game with nearly 6 minutes to go. The three and a half minutes following Hill's last 3PTR at 04:40 saw the Illini go 0-3 from 3 along with a missed layup. Seniors took the last 7 shots from the floor and made only 1 of them. Seems like they could've run something that would've gotten them better looks.

Groundhogday on March 05 @ 12:50 PM CST

**The damning thing for Groce is his record in the Big Ten Conference. It’s now 37-53 during his five seasons. And his Illini teams have finished 7th, 8th, 7th, 12th and now 9th in the league standings.

Even Groce’s most ardent supporters have a hard time defending or explaining that. And even if the incoming recruiting class is special, where’s the evidence to suggest Illinois’ Big Ten trend will suddenly change?*


iluvrt on March 05 @ 02:00 PM CST

It's not about Weber. It's about Groce - a miserable MacThomas failure

HiggsBoson on March 05 @ 03:44 PM CST

Rag on Weber all you like, but he's ten times the coach and at least as good a person as John Groce.

Illinimac68 on March 05 @ 11:56 PM CST

Weber needed to be fired whether or not Groce is a good coach. There were just too many awful losses in the last few years. You don't like losing to Rutgers on the road? How about losing to UIC at the United Center with the excuse being the students on your team had to be students the week before the game? Plus that was a bad UIC team, not a once-in-a-decade mid-major that won its league and made the dance.

Groundhogday on March 06 @ 12:50 AM CST

Wrong thread. No one is arguing that Weber should have been retained. But that has nothing to do with the current decision. This is Groce's team now.

Sweetchuck13 on March 06 @ 02:40 AM CST

This was an odd article. Why do we care what our former coach says? I was blissfully unaware of anything he said or did until reading this. Yet now this has somehow turned into a weird Groce vs. Weber argument.

They've both been bad coaches for Illinois. I don't really care to argue who may have been better at what. Hopefully the Groce era will be history soon just like the Weber era, and we can move on to more fun topics like coaching search rumors.

Duce20 on March 07 @ 07:34 AM CST

Weber certainly isn't proving to be a better coach. He inherited a program in far better shape than he's leaving it at KSU and has yet to win a tourney game there.

Groce not playing Kipper while a 6'7" 4 is torching us was funny to me.

Gard will be Wisconsin's Weber.

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