Coaching Changes

May 22, 2021

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Often, when news leaks out slowly, the full impact doesn't really hit me until the final news drops. Tell me in December that all three assistants will leave after the season and I'd have said "what??". Then it slowly leaks out that each coach is leaving and I'm evaluating each move as it happens. But once the last person leaves and I realize all of what just happened, I'm at "what??". Just so strange to see the entire bench cleared out.

Antigua and Gentry make sense individually. Antigua returned "home" to Kentucky and Gentry returned to his alma mater. But add Chin Coleman to the mix and only Joey Biggs (and Brad Underwood) will return from that photo above. Even Jamall Walker (in back) left last year.

I guess the main thing I think about Gentry leaving (and Geoff Alexander being named an assistant) is the circle of life happening here. I'm going to call it the Circle Of NRAC, an acronym I just made up for Non-Recruiting Assistant Coach. Sometimes you're the ops guy, sometimes you're the Assistant Head Coach, sometimes you're the Assistant TO The Head Coach, but really, it's just "there are more than three assistant coaches but only three assistant coaches can recruit".

Let's just list is all out. Any time someone takes a non-recruiting job, you'll see it listed as NRAC.

  • Geoff Alexander plays at Western Illinois while Underwood is an assistant coach there.
  • When Underwood moved over to Daytona State College in Florida, he hired Alexander as one of his assistants. Underwood then left the junior college ranks to become a NRAC at Kansas State under Bob Huggins.
  • Huggins leaves for West Virginia the next year, and Underwood moves from NRAC to Assistant Coach under new head coach Frank Martin. When Martin moves to South Carolina, Underwood goes with him.
  • Underwood then gets a head coaching job of his own at Stephen F. Austin. He hires the NRAC at Texas A&M, Stephen Gentry, as one of his assistant coaches.
  • Underwood then gets the Oklahoma State job. He takes Gentry with him as a NRAC.
  • Underwood gets the Illinois job after only one year at Oklahoma State. He brings Gentry with him as a NRAC, but then a NRAC position comes open at Gentry's alma mater, Gonzaga. Gentry leaves Illinois to be a NRAC at Gonzaga. Underwood has a NRAC position open so he hires... Geoff Alexander.
  • An assistant coach position comes open at Gonzaga in 2019, but Mark Few does not promote Stephen Gentry. Instead, he hires some guy named Roger Powell. Underwood tells Gentry that he'll give him an assistant coaching spot if Few won't, so Gentry leaves Gonzaga for Illinois (while Jamall Walker is moved down to one of the NRAC roles in order to make room for Gentry).
  • Now, Gonzaga has another assistant coaching spot open. So Gentry will go back to Gonzaga, this time as an official assistant coach.
  • The same day he leaves, Underwood promotes NRAC Geoff Alexander to an assistant coaching job.

It's the cirrrrrrrrrrrrcle of life.

Someone responded to my tweet about this saying that they've "never seen an assistant go back to a place they already were". I added to that by saying that Gentry was replaced both times by the same guy. He's a NRAC at Illinois for a brief time in 2017, he leaves to take the Director Of Ops job at Gonzaga, and Underwood replaces him with Geoff Alexander. Then Gentry gets a real-deal assistant spot here so he returns to Champaign. Then, after two years, Gonzaga offers him a real-deal assistant spot, so he leaves again for his alma mater. His replacement at Illinois? Same guy who replaced him last time.

So in isolation, this one makes total and complete sense. When Alexander was playing college basketball, Brad Underwood was one of the assistant coaches. When Gentry was playing college basketball, Mark Few was the head coach. As of today, both guys are real-deal assistants under those guys (after working as NRAC's for those guys). All of it is "this is exactly how this works".

Add Chin Coleman and Orlando Antigua to the mix? Man, that's hard to wrap your head around all of it. If this offseason was "Gentry finally got that real-deal assistant job at Gonzaga so Alexander replaced him", there'd barely be anything to talk about. Instead, until the third assistant is hired, we're forced to think about things like "can Alexander maintain recruiting momentum when the highest level he recruited to was at mid-major Evansville"?

Speaking of circle of life and Evansville, try this one:

Geoff Alexander is the son of long-time Lincoln, Illinois HS head coach (Brian Cook's head coach) Neil Alexander. Geoff Alexander was an assistant for Marty Simmons at Evansville. Jermaine Hamlin played for Neil Alexander at Lincoln HS and then was a player at Illinois (where Geoff Alexander was assistant to the head coach). Hamlin then transferred this offseason to Eastern Illinois. EIU has a new head coach this year: Marty Simmons.

Since all of this is so tidy, let's just put all of this in a tidy box:

  • Alexander replacing Gentry makes total sense. Longtime Underwood guys.
  • Chester Frazier replacing Chin Coleman makes sense. Chin was hired because he had connections in Illinois; Chester was hired because he played at Illinois.
  • Nationally-connected recruiter Orlando Antigua now must be replaced by another nationally connected recruiter.

Oh, and then Underwood needs to get all three assistants to gel all while building a team without Ayo and likely without Kofi.

Hope he hires a good Assistant To The Head Coach.


HNLINI on May 21, 2021 @ 11:44 PM

The entire turn of events has been very interesting, but I think between the Head Coach, the 2 New Assistants, the balance of the staff and multiple multi-year players, including 2 fifth year seniors, Illinois basketball will be fine culture-wise. Talent wise, we will see a dip losing one or both of our All Americans, and the duration of that dip will be directly tied to the ability to both find another proven national recruiter for the remaining spot to help land the Top 30 targets, as well as the ability to continue to identify and develop the next tier targets in the 30-100 range for the system and the culture. If we can stay "old" we will continue to perform well, but the college recruiting game is changing, with the current top 15 or so kids likely leaving for greener pastures while in or directly from High School.

IlliniJoe81 on May 22, 2021 @ 12:24 AM

I think Underwood is aiming very high for that remaining AC position and that's why it's taking a long time. He's not going to settle unless he has to.

Can we get Kofi back for one more season? That matters more than all this assistant coach drama.

iluvrt on May 22, 2021 @ 12:03 PM

Next up - an Irvin

Groundhogday on May 22, 2021 @ 03:32 PM

Chester wasn’t hired because he played at Illinois. He was offered the job because he is a terrific assistant coach. But we were probably only able to pry him away from a good VA Tech situation because of his Illinois ties.

Groundhogday on May 22, 2021 @ 03:35 PM

Overall, I’m fine with the Chin for Frazier trade, we might even look back at this as a real win for the program. I’m a little nervous about losing Gentry just because he was a key part of Underwood’s analytics approach. Alexander should be a fine Gentry replacement as an on court teacher and road recruiter.

The next hire needs to be an ace recruiter. We will see.

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