UPDATED: Bollant lands at Eastern Illinois

UPDATED: Bollant lands at Eastern Illinois

CHARLESTON — Matt Bollant coached his first college game in Charleston as an assistant on Kathi Bennett’s first Evansville coaching staff in 1997. The Purple Aces came away with a 58-44 victory against Eastern Illinois.

Bollant’s record at what was then Lantz Gym still stands at 1-0. The former Illinois women’s basketball coach will get a chance to add to that mark 20 years after his first win in Charleston after being named Eastern Illinois’ new coach Friday afternoon.

“I really wanted to be a head coach again,” Bollant told The News-Gazette, adding he had reached out to some coaches of top-25 programs about assistant jobs.

“I had so much success at Bryan and Green Bay and really feel like I can have great success again,” Bollant added.

Bollant went 134-36 in five seasons at NAIA Bryan, parlaying that into five seasons at Green Bay. He led the Phoenix to a 148-19 record, five Horizon League regular-season titles and four NCAA tournament berths, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2011.

That same level of success didn’t follow Bollant to Illinois. He was fired March 14 after a third nine-win season in five years dropped his career mark with the Illini to 61-94 overall and 22-62 in the Big Ten.

Bollant replaces Debbie Black at Eastern Illinois. Black’s contract was not renewed March 7 after a 9-19 season. She went 34-80 in four seasons with the Panthers but never won more games than the 12 she compiled in her first season in Charleston.

Bollant said he reached out to Eastern Illinois athletic director Tom Michael two days after he was fired at Illinois about the Panthers’ opening. The two had a previous relationship when Michael was an assistant athletic director at Illinois before taking the EIU job in 2014.

“Who you work for is really important,” Bollant said. “That made the job really appealing to me. There was a comfort level right away on the phone and a comfort level meeting in person. I felt really relaxed when I talked to him and felt really good about the communication. I liked his response and his vision.”

Bollant will be the ninth women’s basketball coach in Eastern Illinois program history. The last winning season was 2012-13, when the Panthers went 20-12 and played in the WNIT. Eastern Illinois beat Missouri in the first round only to lose to Bollant’s Illini 62-54 in the second round at then-Assembly Hall.

“We had exceptional interest from all across the nation in the Eastern Illinois head coaching position,” Michael said in a release. “Matt was a candidate that stood out among those résumés with his proven track record of building winning programs at our level. He sold the committee on his vision for returning EIU women’s basketball back to the upper levels of the Ohio Valley Conference where it can contend for conference championships and post-season (sic) play.”

The Bollants’ house in Champaign is already for sale. Bollant said the plan is for his younger daughter, Regan, to finish her sophomore season at Judah Christian and then move to Charleston. His oldest daughter, Abi, is in her freshman year at Hillsong College in Sydney, Australia.

“We’re going to move as soon as we can,” Bollant said. “ We want to be as close to the team as we can. Really dive into the program and dive into the community and make a huge impact.”

Bollant inherits an Eastern Illinois team that graduated just one senior and is set to return its leading scorer in 5-foot-4 guard Grace Lennox. The Hobart, Tasmania, native averaged 16.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists.

Bollant said he’s started making calls to piece together his first Eastern Illinois coaching staff. He met with his new team Friday afternoon.

“I really liked their response, and they seemed really excited,” Bollant said. “They’ve got a good core returning. We’re going to try to add some more pieces this spring and summer and through the fall to see if we can help the roster a little bit.”

 

ORIGINAL STORY BEGINS HERE

CHARLESTON — Matt Bollant was fired as Illinois women’s basketball coach on March 14.

It was the end result of a five-year run with the Illini that included just one winning season, two independent investigations for alleged player mistreatment and a $10 million lawsuit filed by seven former players in conjuction with their claims of abuse and racism.

Exactly one month later, Bollant has another Division I job — a mere 55 minute drive from Champaign-Urbana. Eastern Illinois announced Bollant’s hire Friday afternoon.

“We had exceptional interest from all across the nation in the Eastern Illinois head coaching position,” Eastern Illinois athletic director Tom Michael said.  “Matt was a candidate that stood out among those resumes with his proven track record of building winning programs at our level. He sold the committee on his vision for returning EIU women’s basketball back to the upper levels of the Ohio Valley Conference where it can contend for conference championships and post-season play.”

Bollant will replace Debbie Black, whose contract was not renewed following the 2016-17 season. The Panthers went 9-19 this past season and 5-11 in the Ohio Valley Conference. Black finished her four-year run in Charleston with a 34-80 overall record. Bollant inherits an Eastern Illinois team that graduated just one senior and is set to return its leading scorer in 5-foot-4 guard Grace Lennox.

Bollant was seen as a home run hire at Illinois following his success at Green Bay. Bollant went 148-19 in five seasons at Green Bay and reached the NCAA tournament four times with the Phoenix, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2011.

Bollant left Illinois, however, after compiling just a 61-94 record and 22-62 mark in the Big Ten. This past season was his third nine-win campaign out of his five leading the Illini.

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BruckJr wrote on April 14, 2017 at 3:04 pm

Congratulations coach.  EIU got a good one.