Tate: Collins' jab shouldn't KO hoop series

Just because an arresting officer used a crude racial epithet in the last 10 years doesn't mean a murderer should go free.

As intelligent people, we should be able to distinguish between verbal misconduct and the big issue. It's called reason ... judgment ... common sense.

So it is with the latest fuss over Illini basketball scheduling.

Just as headstrong Missouri coach Norm Stewart shouldn't be allowed to kill the "Border War" in St. Louis, Illinois-Chicago coach Jimmy Collins' outspoken dislike for UI athletic director Ron Guenther shouldn't end a competitive series between two sister schools.

That said, it is understandable that a "rip job" attributed to Collins in a Chicago publication (N'digo) was the final straw insofar as the UI administration was concerned. Not, mind you, that the game wasn't already on the rocks. UIC coaches knew earlier that it might be canceled. The N'digo article confirmed what already was believed. The chancellor's office long had concluded that "the well had been poisoned," the relationship spoiled.

The game had presidential support

In the beginning, then-UI President Stan Ikenberry favored the idea and joined then-UIC Chancellor James Stukel in encouraging Lou Henson to embark on a series that would be beneficial, financially and otherwise, to UIC.

Clearly, this would have continued when Stukel became UI president. No one would have tried to end it without good reason.

UI coaches ran across good reason in the fall. True or not, they believed detrimental remarks were being said about them in Chicago (unquestionably true; DePaul folks were busy at it). Then, if there was hope of reviving the marriage, it died with Collins' early February comments in N'digo. Following are excerpts:

"The thing that's really good about my situation here is that I have some administrators that I can believe in, administrators that I think really exemplify integrity and honesty. I'm not sure I had that when I was at Illinois-Champaign. In fact, I know I didn't."

"At this point in time I can believe in them (Chancellor David Broski and the UIC administration); that was something I couldn't do at Illinois."

"I really, really thought that I would be (head coach). That's what Lou Henson recommended. A lot of fans wanted it. A lot of players wanted it, and at that time, I wanted it to happen. Now I'm glad it didn't. I'm disappointed that the person who had the power to make the change flat-out lied when he really didn't have to," Collins said.

"I was told that if John Thompson or Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) didn't take the job, that I'd probably have a good shot at it."

Collins heard what Guenther didn't say

These things appear self-evident:

– Back when Collins received a Michigan offer as assistant coach, he was influenced to stay by Guenther with the promise he would be "seriously considered" for the UI job when Henson retired. For Collins to take this to be more than a "consideration" was inappropriate. He read more into Guenther's words than was intended.

– Guenther said he never promised Collins the job. That is extremely believable. It was known all along Guenther was building a national list that he intended to explore. He wanted a coach with Final Four experience, like Thompson and Krzyzewski, and that's what he got in Lon Kruger.

– Illini staffmen said UIC coaches bad-mouthed them, and at one point, Henson intervened with UIC coaches to ask the mud-slinging to stop. But insofar as negative recruiting is concerned, UIC assistant Mark Coomes swears it emanated elsewhere, reminding that UIC coaches "aren't in the same league with Illinois and never recruited the same players. It didn't happen, and I told Lou that."

– Collins' animosity is directed not at the UI administration, but rather at Guenther, whom Collins believes misled him. Guenther said Collins heard things he didn't say, and as a professional in the business, Collins should have dropped his complaints long ago in light of all that was done for him under the same UI umbrella at UIC.

The continuation of Collins' complaints has alienated both UI coaches and the chancellor's office and allowed them to join hands in the decision to drop UIC. Remember, Henson long ago received a call from Stukel encouraging the game to be played, and Stukel would insist on it now if "the well hadn't been poisoned."

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette.

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