LIVE! John Groce fired

LIVE! John Groce fired

5:40 p.m.

Groce said he harbors no ill will towards Illinois.

"I wish this place nothing but success," Groce said. "It's been a privilege. It's been a real blessing."

Groce said he wanted to coach in the NIT game should Illinois receive a bid, but that wasn't his decision. 

5:35 p.m.

Groce said he didn't go into this season thinking he was coaching for his job this season.

"Obviously, there's pressure everywhere," Groce said. "That's the nature of the job. We really did a best job to keep our guys focused. For me, it was one day at a time. My wife really reminds me of that."

Groce said it's hard to walk away from the incoming recruits that Illinois has landed.

"I'll have a conversation with them soon," Groce said. "I don't have any regrets just because of the way we do things."

5:32 p.m.

Groce said Whitman's decision to fire him surprised him.

"I certainly respect him," Groce said. "I want to learn from every circumstance. I haven't had a lot of time over the last few hours. It's no secret. There's some things that everything falls on me. I'm taking responsibility for everything."

Groce said there were some challenges in the last five years that were out of his control.

"You take responsibility for everything when you're a leader," Groce said. "That's what I'm going to do."

5:30 p.m.

John Groce thanks the players he's coached at Illinois early on in his remarks.

"I have great respect for those guys battling through a lot of different things over the last five years," Groce said. "The way that they fought, my goodness. You saw that here at the end of this season."

Along with the fans.

"We're very thankful for them," he said. 

"The one thing, and I told my wife this, I feel like this is a much better place than when we started March 29, 2012, on a lot of fronts," Groce said. "We focused on trying to help these guys grow as players. That was not a cliche. That was real."

Groce said he's received more than 170 text messages in the last few hours from friends, families and fellow coaches.

"We're very blessed to have an opportunity at such a special place," Groce said.

5:21 p.m.

Josh Whitman said this was one of the toughest decisions he's had to make in his professional career.

"It's no secret that John and I have gotten to be good friends," Whitman said. "I hope this is a relationship that can endure after he's gone."

Whitman didn't have a timeline for when a new coach would be on board at Illinois.

"Current players who might start to think about going elsewhere," Whitman said, "the less time we can have with it vacant, the better."

5:18 p.m.

Whitman said he wants to find a new coach who is a good fit, has head coaching experience, is a dynamic recruiter and is a strong leader with high integrity.

"You want to find somebody who appreciates the University of Illinois," Whitman said.

Whitman said he will not use a search firm in finding a new coach.

"One of the reasons I thought it was important to make the decision today is that this decision is based on our performance," Whitman said.

Whitman said he will reach out to Illinois signees Jeremiah Tilmon, Trent Frazier, Javon Pickett and Da'Monte Williams.

"I look forward to talking to them over the next few days," Whitman said. 

Whitman said the conversation with the team, when he informed them of a change, "went fine."

"You spend a lot of time with those people," Whitman said. "These guys are really their surrogate parents when they're here on our campus. A lot of emotion. The players certainly care about their coaches."

5:11 p.m.

Whitman said that Groce wanted to coach the Illini in the postseason, whether that's in the NCAA tournament, NIT or CBI.

"We felt this was the right move for our program to make a clean break today," Whitman said. 

Josh Whitman said the rest of the coaching staff will stay intact, with Darren Hertz being elevated from his role to an assistant coach. Jamall Walker is now the program's interim coach, but didn't say whether he would consider Walker for the full-time gig.

"I don't want to comment on any specifics in the search," Whitman said. 

The expectation, Whitman said, is for the rest of the assistant coaches to move on to new programs, but didn't say whether Walker, Paris Parham or Dustin Ford were let go today.

"The future for Illinois basketball is bright," Whitman said. "It's an unbelievable program with almost unmatched tradition."

Whitman said that today is not a day of celebration considering Groce lost his job.

"I wish people could see all the effort and the energy that goes into running a high-major college basketball program," Whitman said. "It is an incredibly intense experience. These guys, for the last five years, have laid it on the line to this university."

5:05 p.m.

Whitman starts off presser saying it's a tough day to let one of his good friends go.

Whitman met with Groce today and informed him of the change about 1 p.m. today.

"He handled it with grace and with humility," Whitman said. 

After the meeting with Groce, Whitman met with the team, coaching staff and then reached out to recruits.

"I can tell you there will not be an announcement on Monday," Whitman said. "This will be a more traditional process than what we went through a year ago."

Whitman said this decision wasn't the culmination of one game and that he's been evaluating the program since his first day on the job back in 2016.

"Our athletes left here better people, better students, better athletes," Whitman said.

"The challenge for me is my decisions have to be based on what's in our best long-term interests. I was here 10 years ago. I saw the energy. I felt the environment at State Farm Center where you couldn't find a ticket."

Whitman said he made the decision today.

"I was able to reach a point of peace," Whitman said. "I'm not someone to wait. I didn't think it would be fair to John or the other people in the program."

5 p.m.

Josh Whitman arrived at 4:59 p.m., dressed in black suit and orange tie.

Whitman expected to make a statement, then take questions.

Same for John Groce after Whitman is done

4:46 p.m.

Scott Richey and Matt Daniels are set up here at Memorial Stadium as the sun is about set on a late Saturday afternoon here in Champaign.

Josh Whitman is slated to address the media here momentarily after annoucing two hours earlier that he has fired John Groce after five seasons in charge of the Illini.

Groce is slated to be in attendance. Not sure how long he might talk or if he'll take any questions.

This is the second firing Whitman has done in his one-year tenure at his alma mater after he let Bill Cubit go on March 5, 2016, and then hiring Lovie Smith two days later.

Whoever Whitman hires (here's a look at 10 possible replacements) will mark his third hire since replacing Mike Thomas last year. 

Smith and new volleyball coach Chris Tamas, who Illinois hired last month, are the two new head coaches Whitman has brought in during his short tenure leading the Illini athletic department.

4:37 p.m.

Speculation circled for several months concerning John Groce and his future with the Illinois basketball program. After a 75-55 loss to Michigan and second-round exit in the Big Ten tournament on Thursday, Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman announced he fired Groce on Saturday afternoon.

Illinois went 95-75 in five seasons under Groce, with a 37-53 mark in the Big Ten. The Illini, unlikely to receive an NCAA tournament berth Sunday, will have missed out on the premier postseason tournament for four straight seasons.

Whitman will discuss his decision to fire Groce and name Jamall Walker interim head coach at 5 p.m. at Memorial Stadium. The News-Gazette staff will be on hand, providing updates throughout the news conference.

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annabellissimo wrote on March 11, 2017 at 7:03 pm

Josh Whitman and John Groce showed extraordinary dignity, sensitivity, wisdom, kindness and decency in the press conference and around the subject of John Groce's release from the coaching position. It was a very sad moment. I compared it to the memory of Bruce Weber's firing, and this felt like a very sad moment, unlike that one. I posted a week or so ago in the sports section a question about some kind of opportunity to send John Groce for some "on the job training" for coaches that might have helped him develop further as a coach - while at Illinois. After all, everybody from college Presidents to faculty go to conferences and workshops to grow and stay on top in their field; why not coaches? Why does it always have to be "win or be fired"? John Groce, as many have said - and the same can apparently be said of Josh Whitman - is a man of fine character and integrity and that is worth a lot in college basketball coaching! If people have decided that he is an "almost good" coach due to the win-loss record, then why can't Illinois invest in training that would make him a "really good" coach? We coach players so why can't we coach coaches?! I hope we don't look back with regret that we let John Groce go. When weighing the good versus the "bad", it seems to me that the good wins out. I wish him and his family a great and happy future. I suspect that not too far down the road, Illinois will be watching some team of his going far in the NCAA tournament and we will use expressions like, "if only....." I thought Josh Whitman's statement, as well as his answers to reporters' questions, were excellent; what a very difficult situation he has been in. His reminding all of us, but certainly those who have been so mean and unfeeling, callous and crude, that is not a time for celebration, that these are people, families, human beings, was extremely important and I deeply appreciated that he made that point. It could be that Josh Whitman and John Groce are far better people than the "Illini nation" deserves! My great hope is that all those who care only about winning never have enough influence over Illinois athletics that our great university is made into an NBA (or NFL) farm team or NBA camp - the "one and done" type, the kind that takes "athlete" and tacks on a phony "student" to the expression. John Groce coached young men, not just basketball players, and he coached basketball players who actually were students, and in the process, he has been teaching them about life through a game, not just life as a game. Sad day, but one very well handled by Whitman and Groce. They made me proud, even while sad.

wayward wrote on March 11, 2017 at 7:03 pm

Yeah, I don't know much about basketball, but had gotten the impression that there were a lot of good things about Groce and some weaknesses.  I'd been hoping that it might be possible to bring in a retired NCAA coach with a successful history to mentor Groce in some of the weaker areas.

Bwp 5P wrote on March 11, 2017 at 10:03 pm

Absolutely agree! Tough day, handled with Great Class!

aaeismacgychel wrote on March 12, 2017 at 3:03 am

I can't say I agree with this viewpoint much at all, and perhaps I am in the minority here, but I can't help but feel many of your thoughts are illogical if not disingenuous.  I can understand liking Groce as a person or his personality, but to say that this is a sad day while the Bruce Weber firing was a happy one is more than slightly bizarre to me and not reflective at all of the situation at the time.  And based on your following statements it's as though you are saying Groce was a great life coach where as Weber was not, which seems similarly odd considering most people I know would agree that Weber had pretty strong moral character and was a good guy who struggled at recruiting.  And while Weber struggled with some behavioral issues like Jamar Smith, Jereme Richmond, Luther Head, and Rich McBride, Groce has had several behavioral and assault issues as well, so it's not like he was better at preventing this.  If anything he might have had a worse track record.


And then for saying he struggled in regards to his court acumen and gameplan, but maybe U of I could get him special coaching training?  I don't want to sound mean or insensitive but that is his job.  Think of it this way, if you are hired to be CEO of a major company and then show poor business acumen and routinely make extremely poor financial decisions, they are going to fire you, not coddle you or treat you with kid gloves.  And that is the point of this- John Groce  seems like a good guy and a nice person and I honestly do wish him the best, but quite frankly he, like Tim Beckman seemed way over his head.  His recruiting wasn't a step up from Weber's, his in-game coaching was much worse, and as such, his team struggled.  He had 5 years to improve the product and only wound up lessening it.  The right business move is letting him go.  Again, I do wish him and his family the best and I hope he finds a role better suited for him to succeed, but this decision in my opinion seemed like an extremely logical one.

beekay wrote on March 11, 2017 at 11:03 pm

When I think objectively about it, it's not a happy day and it's not a sad day.  It's a business day.  I don't feel especially happy.  A good guy who tried hard to run a clean program and who has a family of his own has to be let go.  But it's nothing to be sad about.  He gets a nice buyout that takes care of him and his family.  And it was handled with class.  So no sadness.  When you boil it all down, there just wasn't any sign of substantial improvement.  Too many double digit losses.  Too many times being outcoached after halftime.  Too much "giving the other time credit" after a loss.  It's a business decision.  A nice guy couldn't cut it at this level.  There's no guarantee that the next guy does better.  The best option is to admit that this is the correct business decision with the hope that we do it better with the next hire.