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?)