Apr 26, 2017

So we've completed 2011/12 all over again (fire the football coach and both basketball coaches, hire three replacements in one year's time). This time, with this AD, we went with coaching, coaching, and coaching. So why am I still hung up on recruiting?

Here's what I mean by that. Ron Zook was hired for his recruiting. John Groce was hired for his (potential) recruiting. In this cycle, Josh Whitman hired Lovie Smith because of his coaching acumen, then he hired Brad Underwood because of his coaching acumen, and then he hired Nancy Fahey for her coaching acumen. This was one very clear statement from the athletic director - our coaching needs to improve. Recruiting is recruiting, but we need coach's coaches.

Yet here I am, counting down the hours until I can go to Mark Smith's announcement in the Edwardsville gym. I'm back to my "landing players like this is make or break" ways. Let me see if I can articulate this.

I always reference that conversation I had with some random Wisconsin fan back the night of the Christian Laettner shot in 1992. He predicted to me that Wisconsin football and basketball would become top-10 programs very soon. I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed at him. Wisconsin had been to 3 bowls in 30 years and hadn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1947 (yes, 1947).

Now, somewhere, he laughs and laughs and laughs because we switched places. Combining the big two programs, we're currently one of the five worst nationally and they're in the top 10. I don't need to rehash this anymore - you know what I'm saying.

What did they do? They hired the right coaches (duh). They invested in those coaches through boosting facilities. I don't need to rehash this either - I'm nowhere near my point.

That point: I obsess so very specifically over recruiting. If we land Mark Smith we'll get to X wins but if we don't we'll only get Y wins. And on the football side, I obsess and obsess and obsess over specific recruits at specific positions. But my Wisconsin friend in 1992 didn't do that. My Wisconsin friend made his big prediction without really even looking at the recruits Barry Alvarez was pulling in (because you kinda sorta couldn't at the time). There were still recruiting lists, mostly in magazines like Street & Smith's, so you could somewhat follow recruiting, but Wisconsin wasn't landing players on those lists (while Illinois, at the time, was still landing some of them). My friend made his call based on one thing: this administration is investing in athletics and it will pay off soon.

That's similar to what Jim Phillips is doing with Northwestern. Avoid quick fixes with recruiting coaches like Ron Zook and view the whole thing as a 10-20 year process. Investment, stability, one system, we're going to stick with it for years and see where it goes. (Going back to Wisconsin football for a moment, they've basically had one run-heavy offensive system since 1989. Illinois has tried 13 different offensive schemes in that same amount of time.) Find the right coaches and then invest long, long, long-term.

I think that's what we're doing. That seems to be Josh Whitman's plan. With Lovie and with Underwood, he did the same thing: hire a coach's coach and then boost the salary for assistants in hopes that they can bring in the recruits we need. But the main investment here is the coach and the system. Lock that in long-term and the worry about everything else later.

So why can't I stop obsessing over recruiting? Like, I have this full knowledge that the vast majority of Illini fans often find out about football recruits on Signing Day. I'm refreshing Twitter constantly before Christmas hoping that Kendrick Green commits to us and the average fan learns his name on February 1 when he signs. And they don't really learn if he was a 5.7 three-star on Rivals or if he was a 5.5 three-star (HUGE DIFFERENCE) - they just get a sense of Lovie filling positions of need and that this was a "solid" first class.

There was probably some linebacker in 1991 who picked Michigan State over Wisconsin, and some recruiting-obsessed fan was probably "he was the #1 target and our three backup plans committed elsewhere - we're TOTALLY SCREWED", while my guy up there was "we've invested long-term with good coaches - I expect good things in a few years". I mean, I spent 10 years saying "Bo Ryan isn't recruiting at a high level - he can't sustain this forever" (he did), so that right there should have been a "stop caring so much about recruiting" red flag for me. Coaching acumen (and investment in that acumen) is what really matters.

Yet here I am, pacing, believing that we're going to land Mr. Basketball today and that will fix everything. Well, not that it will "fix everything", but that it has to happen or else WE'RE SCREWED. There are so many trees to look at here that I don't think I'll ever get to the forest evaluation.

(But seriously - we really need to land Mark Smith. He's the perfect guard for Underwood. And it would be such a big recruiting statement to arrive in March and land Mr. Basketball in April. STATEMENTS MATTER.)

So this is me stating that I'm going to make a concerted effort to lean on "trust the process and the coaching acumen" and less on "we need to land Jones or we're screwed". Recruiting has let me down time and again, so it's time to swing the pendulum the other way.

(But seriously - we just have to land Smith, right?)


ATOillini on April 26 @ 04:00 PM CDT

And to think I thought you were purposely waiting until AFTER the announcement out of fear that discussing it here would jinx the whole thing. I was wrong. The logic within this post is unquestionably correct, and I try and tell myself the same thing. But being a long suffering fan my emotional side, like you, is in full out panic mode.

Bear8287 on April 26 @ 07:10 PM CDT

Remember that the Cubs were a century bad and then put together the two worst consecutive years in the organization's history before finally becoming the best team in the MLB last year.

Having an administration that's committed to a winning program is huge, but just like with Wisconsin (and even once the Ricketts bought the Cubs) it didn't happen overnight.

I'm long-term optimistic about where the programs are heading. Not expecting a bowl game next season for football, but the basketball team will have a legitimate shot at the NCAA tourney, with or without Smith.

HiggsBoson on April 26 @ 09:39 PM CDT

The Cubs weren't bad for a century. They just didn't win the World Series. They had some fine teams in there.

mmyers74 on April 26 @ 10:24 PM CDT

They also got "good", by being "really bad" for a few years (mixed with a few shrewd moves).
Doesn't work in college sports that way.

Bear8287 on April 27 @ 01:31 AM CDT

Nevertheless, it all started with a change at the top along with a commitment to win.

I'd consider hiring both Lovie Smith and Brad Underwood as shrewd moves. Wouldn't you?

mmyers74 on April 27 @ 02:15 AM CDT

? Yes. (But Illinois didn't get good BY being bad. That was the point. The shrewd moves comment was me throwing you a bone, not drawing a distinction.)

Not important. Today is a great day. I don't want to argue. It's detracting from a wonderful Illinois day.

Congratulations Illini Nation!

Bear8287 on April 27 @ 01:28 AM CDT

Didn't win a World Series? Heck they hadn't even played in one for over 70 years...

DB50 on April 26 @ 09:18 PM CDT

The "seeing the forest instead of the trees" moment for me was the minute I heard Josh Whitman was the new AD. This, in time, will prove to be the singular most important hire in sports for Illinois in the last 40 yrs. He has the vision, passion & intelligence to turn the Fighting Illini into a major player on the national scene in the near future.

HiggsBoson on April 26 @ 09:43 PM CDT

I have to admit that I stopped reading the article at "John Groce".

neale stoner on April 27 @ 12:22 AM CDT

Now that's funny!

Nothing wrong with coaching plus 'crootin!

Sweetchuck13 on April 27 @ 08:47 AM CDT

Guess what? The best "coaches" also can recruit pretty well - simply because they can "coach". They may not be quite as star-studded, but I have no doubt Underwood will boost the talent on the roster.

Plus having a Mr. Basketball from outside of Chicago helps. Anytime there's talent in the state outside of Chicago we've typically benefited. I wonder what our batting average is on recruiting non-Chicago Mr. Basketballs?

HailToTheOrange on April 28 @ 03:46 PM CDT

this is exactly right. you hire a coach with a vision who can coach and make adjustments to further that vision and it translates to sustained success. that coach can then not only point to that success to land a recruit, he can intelligently/accurately show that recruit how he'll fit into a proven system. anything else is just salesmanship & smoke/mirrors. Go Illini...and congrats on a great decision Mark!

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