UPDATE: Bollant says 'storm affected us'

UPDATE: Bollant says 'storm affected us'

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CHAMPAIGN — Josh Whitman fired his third head coach in a little more than a year as the Illinois athletic director, letting women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant go after five seasons on Tuesday.

“He just came into today in my office and started the conversation with, ‘I’m going to let you go,’” Bollant said Tuesday afternoon, standing on the Illini’s practice court inside the Ubben Basketball Complex. “Illinois is a great place. Josh, in a short time, has been great. I wish them the very best. I want this program to have success and be great.”

Illinois continued its lengthy NCAA tournament drought during Bollant’s tenure, which saw several players transfer and a $10 million lawsuit filed against the program two years ago, with the Illini last making the NCAA tournament in 2003.

Bollant, who had one year remaining on his contract and will receive the remaining balance of approximately $450,000, said he spoke to the team this afternoon.

“Obviously, there were a lot of tears and emotions,” Bollant said. “That’s hard."

Bollant compiled a 61-94 record at Illinois, including a 22-62 mark in Big Ten play. The Illini went 1-5 in Big Ten tournament play, too.

“We’ve been here five years, and the product doesn’t look how it’s supposed to look. I get that,”  Bollant said. “We went through a 100-year storm, and that storm affected us, no doubt about it. We lost six good players in that storm. I feel like the freshmen are going to take a jump and be great next year. The future is bright, but if I’m coming in from Josh’s point of view, it doesn’t look it should look after five years.”

***

CHAMPAIGN — The Illinois women’s basketball team made more headlines off the court in the past three years than it did for successes on it.

A WNIT quarterfinals appearance in the 2012-13 season, Matt Bollant’s first with the program, was the highlight of his five seasons at Illinois. The Illini went 19-14 that year and 9-7 in the Big Ten as holdovers Adrienne GodBold and Karisman Penn led the way.

Since then, it’s been a persistent downward trend, mirroring that of the men’s program but with even less success in terms of wins and losses.

Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman announced Bollant’s firing on Tuesday, just three days after he fired John Groce and for the main primary reason. Whitman envisions success for Illinois’ athletic programs, famously coining the hashtag “#WeWillWin” upon his own hiring.

"I would like to thank Matt Bollant and his staff for their many contributions to Illinois basketball during the last five years," Whitman said in a release. "They have faced adversity both on and off the court, yet have greeted every day with unyielding optimism and unmatched effort. They have maintained the well-being and personal growth of the student-athletes under their charge as their foremost priority and have been exceptional ambassadors for Illinois athletics in our community and in basketball circles across the country."

Seen as a home run hire at Illinois because of his success at Wisconsin-Green Bay, Bollant, like Groce, wasn’t able to win enough with the Illini.

Bollant’s five-year run at Illinois ends with a 61-94 overall record and 22-62 mark in the Big Ten. The Illini won just two Big Ten games in the 2013-14 season, two in 2015-16 and three this past season going 9-22 overall and 3-13 in conference action. This year’s Big Ten tournament win against Nebraska was Bollant’s first, having bowed out in the first round in 2012-13 with a possible NCAA tournament bid in sight with a longer Big Ten tournament stay.

"Without question the program is in a better place today than it was when they arrived," Whitman said. "Our expectations for women's basketball, however, match those we have for many of our other sports programs; to compete at the highest level, year in and year out. I am excited to embrace a future for Illinois women's basketball where we realize the program's full — and virtually unlimited — potential."

The lack of success on the court was accompanied by several distractions off it, ranging from player transfers to two simultaneous investigations into the program for player mistreatment and creating a racially hostile environment.

Four players — Amarah Coleman, Jacqui Grant, Taylor Gleason and Alexis Smith — transferred following the 2014-15 season. Those four and three other former players — Taylor Tuck, Nia Oden and Sarah Livingston — filed a $10 million lawsuit in conjunction with their claims of abuse and racism.

Then associate head coach Mike Divilbiss and Illinois “agreed to part ways” when the investigation began. Bollant was cleared of any wrongdoing in both outside investigations and the lawsuit was settled for $375,000, but the program took a hit nonetheless.

Bollant, who had one year remaining on his contract, will receive a buyout of approximately $450,000 from Illinois.

Bollant received a vote of confidence from Whitman in March 2016 after a 9-21 season. Less than a month later, Brooke Kissinger transferred to Creighton. A month after that Chatrice White decided to transfer as well, leaving Bollant with zero players from the 2014 recruiting that was the best in his first three seasons.

White’s departure was a significant blow. The former McDonald’s All-American was the centerpiece player of the program, and her family had been supportive of both Bollant and Divilbiss throughout the investigation into the program a year prior. White transferred to Florida State and cleared to play immediately earned ACC Sixth Player of the Year honors for the No. 10 Seminoles.

Bollant’s firing also mirrors Groce’s in the fact he had another solid recruiting class ready to join a team that featured almost all freshmen and sophomores this past season. Incoming 2017 recruit Channise Lewis just won her fourth state championship with Miami (Fla.) Country Day, and the four-star guard is considered a top 50 national recruit by ProspectsNat

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ohnooo wrote on March 14, 2017 at 8:03 pm

okay so here's the deal or no deal....... come to work as a coach for the Illini........ win or lose you still walk away a millionaire ..... for the many last few coaches its quite a good game ! 

jparks wrote on March 14, 2017 at 9:03 pm

No storm here Matt.  Bad coaching affected you.  Bad player / coach relationships affected you.  Best of luck to you in the future but when you have more player transfers away from your team than Big Ten wins, that says something about you.