Illini Coach of the Year: Justin Spring

Illini Coach of the Year: Justin Spring

Why he's our Coach of the Year: The 34-year-old Spring, an upcoming inductee into the Illinois athletics Hall of Fame in September based on his resume as a gymnast with the Illini, guided Illinois to its first Big Ten title since 2012 before the Illini finished third at the NCAA championships.

How would you describe the last year?

This last year was like four years coming. We were second for three years at the Big Tens and always had a super talented senior class. I think finally everyone was like, 'Enough, we're going to get this Big Ten championship and make a serious run at the national title.' We fell a little short at the end, but our guys really put it together and had a great meet. I saw an invested, spirited senior group that led our team to a championship.

Is there a moment that stood out from this past season?

Standing in the Big Ten venue watching the guys be in the zone is fantastic, but I look back to the practice moments where we had incredible leadership. Senior guys just taking the reins where coach doesn't have to. They didn't settle for mediocrity in the gym, and I think that made them more prepared.

What's the outlook for next season?

Every year it's hard to see your senior class go — this one specifically. There's more All-Americans, more titles and more guys that will be written in our history books for a long time. Tyson Bull, Bobby Baker (and) Chandler Eggleston, those guys are just crazy talented and brought home a lot of hardware in their careers. To lose them is tough, but our freshman guys are hungry. We've brought in some great minds that are ready for direction and ready to charge forward. The energy in the gym and the focus in the gym during the summer I think is always telling how you're going to be. I'm very excited for next year.

If you wind up with a new home for Illinois gymnastics, what do you want it to include?

Air conditioning. Probably our most incredibly important time in our training is our summer prep. Gymnastics, you're literally developing new skills to upgrade. If you're not getting better and getting brand new scores to put up bigger start values, you're falling behind the pack. That summer training with some air conditioning would really make workouts not so much an unbelievable flight. Then some very specific equipment needs — some safety stuff.

Do you have a favorite place on campus or in C-U that makes being at Illinois special?

I'd probably say when I was an undergrad the Quad, just meeting new people and people that are excited. Now probably downtown. My wife and I try to make it a point to go out. You'll catch us outside eating at all the local restaurants. I think our little micro city of downtown Champaign is really cool. My wife and I really enjoy getting out with or without the kids.

Past N-G Coaches of the Year

YEAR — COACH, SPORT

2017 — Mike Small, men's golf

2016 — Mike Small, men's golf

2015 — Dan Hartleb, baseball

2014 — Mike Small, men's golf

2013 — Mike Small, men's golf

2012 — Justin Spring, men's gymnastics

2011 — Justin Spring, men's gymnastics

2010 — Terri Sullivan, softball

2009 — Mike Small, men's golf

2008 — Ron Zook, football

2007 — Brad Dancer, men's tennis

2006 — Karen Harvey, women's cross country

2005 — Bruce Weber, men's basketball

2004 — Bruce Weber, men's basketball

2003 — Craig Tiley, men's tennis