Tate: Whitman shows he has what it takes with Groce's firing

Tate: Whitman shows he has what it takes with Groce's firing

John Groce lost too many basketball games.

That’s all. A 37-53 Big Ten record and four straight NCAA whiffs are unacceptable at Illinois.

Athletic director Josh Whitman, who continues to display a maturity beyond his years ­— who said he was too young? — ended days of speculation by pulling the plug Saturday.

Acknowledging his close friendship with Groce, the AD said: “I was able to reach a point of peace with the decision. And when I make a decision like that, I’m not one to dally around. I didn’t think that would be fair to John and others in the program once I decided.”

Despite Groce’s request to coach the team in the NIT ­— the 18-14 Illini should receive their NIT assignment tonight — Whitman named assistant Jamall Walker as interim coach. Walker will also have a lead responsibility in maintaining contact with signed recruits and others. He will conduct practice today.

Meanwhile, the AD will initiate a national search without outside help.

The search is on
Whitman was moved to act in part by his recollection of happier days. Herein lies the value of having someone with institutional knowledge in the position of leadership.

“I was here at (basketball’s) peak,” he said. “I was here 10 years ago. I saw the energy. I felt the environment at the State Farm Center. You couldn’t find a ticket. Every game was an event. Every fan was in an orange shirt. The waiting list for season tickets was in the thousands. I remember standing in the crowd, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up when the pregame video went on the board: ‘The champ is here.’

“Remember that? I’ve never forgotten the feeling when that team came on the court. That’s what we’re striving for. That was 10 years ago. And if we’re not careful, it’ll be 30 years ago. That’s what I can’t allow to happen.

“We’re looking for someone who understands our rich history, someone who wants to be here. My search will be a traditional process, unlike what we did a year ago with Lovie Smith. A lot of great coaches are still coaching, and we’ll be respectful of their obligations.”


Looks like Williams is out
Whitman said he has been evaluating the program for the entire year since he arrived. It is believed that his minimum requirement was making the NCAA field, a quest that Groce missed in losing the last two games.

“This decision wasn’t based on one game or a single moment,” Whitman said. “It was an assessment that’s been ongoing for a long time, and I made the decision (Saturday).”

Citing the competition, Whitman likened it to “musical chairs where we don’t want to be the person left standing when the music stops.”

One rumor has already been quashed. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that “Illinois was willing to make Monty Williams one of the NCAA’s top paid coaches, but he’ll pass. He’s focused on a prompt NBA coaching return.”

Williams is a former head coach with the New Orleans Pelicans and has served with Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski with the United States National team. He is now in the San Antonio Spurs’ front office.

This information, if accurate, serves two purposes: (1) Williams is out of the picture and (2) Whitman has ample funds to pay someone considerably more than the $1.7 million that Groce received.

No need for salt in wound
This was the right decision. But it’s not one that a much-too-angry Illini Nation should celebrate.

Groce handled the situation with grace and humility. He attended the press conference at Memorial Stadium and was as upbeat as ever.

Said Whitman: “I want to remind people in this room and our fans that some good people lost their jobs (Saturday). This is not a day to celebrate, but a day when we should recognize that a bunch of people worked very hard the last five years.

“These are not people in a reality show or actors in a play. These are people with real dreams, aspirations and fears ... and they had a rough day (Saturday). The cameras are going to go off and the writers are going to go away, and they’ll still have to pack up the boxes, put their houses on the market, find new jobs and be away from their families.

“Let’s be respectful.”


Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.


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Illini1973 wrote on March 12, 2017 at 7:03 am
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Deon Thomas.

illinifaningeorgia wrote on March 12, 2017 at 10:03 am

No way.  He did a crappy job as an assistant at UIC.  I wouldn't take a chance on him, at least until he proves himself.

Illinois88 wrote on March 12, 2017 at 7:03 am

Loren - now you say: "This was the right decision." What a flip-flop by you - you have been writing and saying on the radio that the recruiting class was the reason Groce should be retained. Why have you changed your opinion now?

Wiseguy1130 wrote on March 12, 2017 at 10:03 pm

Sorry y'all.  From here in TN, I gotta agree with 88 and MP. I'm thinking it's cuz Tate doesn't like to swim against the "current".

They win big game, he's for him.  They lose and when it looks like John Groce is probably gonna be toast, he turns 180.

Let the record show that I called the LT flip first.  LOL and smiley face.

Of course anyone who dare call Loren a flip-flopper, or criticize his writing is going to be called names by the Tate fan club. And not surprisingly, not in the least creative or compelling manner.

illinifaningeorgia wrote on March 12, 2017 at 10:03 am

"...not a decision that a much too angry fan base should celebrate"

Tate, you know nothing about angry fan bases.  Get your head out of ( ok, I'll go with) the sand.  Fans of other schools are much angrier, fans of perrenial NCAA Tournament teams, teams that are merely having an off year (Indiana, for one).  Four bad years in a row deserves an angry reaction from the fan base.

Also, the celebration is because a change has been made and creates the potential for impovement in the future.  It is certainly nothing personal against Groce and his staff.


Moonpie wrote on March 12, 2017 at 10:03 am

"John Groce lost too many basketball games."

Hmmm....compare that to Ancient Tate's recent lead--The monster is loose. Groce's status is a non-issue...

Thanks, Capt. Obvious!!!!

A flip-flopper indeed. He always has and always will.


beekay wrote on March 12, 2017 at 1:03 pm

Sheesh Michael Gray, why does it matter if he flip flopped?  He's not a politician.  Loren wrote an article that is 100% correct this time.  You should be happy with that.  Let's face it, there is nothing that Loren writes that you won't criticize.  You hate him.  We get it.  And sure, I think he should retire too.  But I'm still willing to let an accurate article exist without criticism.  When you do this, it just makes you look foolish and bitter.  There is clearly more to your hatred than mere annoyance.  Keep that personal crud out of here.

Fuzzybeard2016 wrote on March 12, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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This happened at least a year later than it should have.

Brownshoe wrote on March 12, 2017 at 3:03 pm

I was a huge Monty Williams fan. If he is truly out of the picture, I am now a Jamall Walker fan.

My reasoning is this: I don't think the so-called “home run” college coaches are that impressive in the first place, and in the second, I don't think they can be bribed into taking the Illinois job. We all know that it is not a plum, for the likes of Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens were not interested last time, and Groce was not a first choice.

So Whitman is going to have a hard time filling the job, and what is worse, he won't be able to do it quickly.

The upshot is, as I see it, that we will get an unimpressive guy with head coaching experience, while in the meantime, the so-called home run coaches will be recruiting our present commits and Mark Smith, and perhaps, and most likely, stealing them away.

So I am all for an assistant, who can really recruit and whom we can land quickly and who can start talking to the present recruits and Smith.

With regard to coaching Xs and Os, you might convince me that great understanding of them is need to coach football, but no way in basketball, The most important attribute for coaches in both sports is to be a great recruiter, but this is even more true in basketball, where on-floor talent is almost the only thing that counts.

Assistants can't do it? HA. Need I say Tom Izzo, Chris Collins, Fred Hoiberg, and more?.

The first assistant that comes to mind that fills the bill is Walker, and I say “Why not?”

Hire Walker tomorrow, save your recruits, probably get Smith, and get on with it!

Illini '73 wrote on March 13, 2017 at 6:03 pm

Agreed Brownshoe.  It doesn't matter how great your X's and O'x are if you don't have the athletes that are capable of executing, they won't work.

If you want to see just one small piece of evidence that illustrates our lack of athleticism, just watch the next two weeks of the tournament and see how many times someone throws the ball up at the rim and somebody puts his elbow over the rim and jams it home.  How many times have you seen that in the past few years from an Illini player?

Quickness, explosiveness, jumping ability, etc.  You can't X and O that.  You have to recruit it.


griff507 wrote on March 12, 2017 at 3:03 pm

I think old moonie is so mad at Tate, because he has always thought he was a better writer than Tate! Problem was he could never get the N-G to agree! He hates that everybody knows Tates name, and he is just a nobody!  Sorry moonie, Tate will always be better known than you! Learn to live with it, you always come accross as a bitter old man, which you are! Get a life in your new home state, Georgia needs more bitter old men!

illinifaningeorgia wrote on March 14, 2017 at 9:03 am

NO we do not (need more bitter old men)!!!

Rocky7 wrote on March 12, 2017 at 6:03 pm

Here are two possibilities for the UofI basketball coach opening.  Both have revived strong programs that were down.

Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette,  AND

Bryce Drew, Vanderbilt

NB. Before Lovie Smith was hired, I suggested Jeff Brohm, and he ended up at Purdue, so the Illini will have to deal with him after all !

JLKIV wrote on March 12, 2017 at 8:03 pm

Yes, Josh. It is a shame when anyone loses a job, but if I did my job as poorly as John Groce has I wouldn't be doing it 5 years on. This should have been done last year.

I applaud the decision to go it on your own and not use a search firm. Bunch of blood-sucking leeches that add no value.

jlawless wrote on March 13, 2017 at 8:03 am

Now, it is time for Tate to go.  Put years of blindly supporting a losing tradition behind us all.

Objective Reporter wrote on March 13, 2017 at 10:03 am

This just in - Tate is a moron.

jjohnson wrote on March 13, 2017 at 1:03 pm

I love the idea of Bryce Drew, but one of his outstanding characteristics, acquired from his father, is character, and I do not think that would permit him to leave Vanderbilt after just one year. Shame; Josh is great, but fine man that Groce is, he was kept on one year too long (though the class he has recruited might be an argument against me).