(updated 6 p.m.) CHAMPAIGN — For the third time since November, Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas has fired a high-profile Illinois coach.
The first-year AD announced Bruce Weber's dismissal at an 11 a.m. news conference at Memorial Stadium. Weber's firing was reported earlier today.
"A decision has been made to move in a different direction," Thomas said.
"I did meet with Bruce this morning and informed him of that decision."
Weber was not at the morning press conference, but remained in Champaign-Urbana. Weber met with the media at 3:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium and read a statement. Weber paused to compose himself during his 13 minutes, 20 seconds at the microphone. Weber said he was going to Custard Cup after his talk. He didn't take any questions from the media.
"It's been a very difficult day for me," Weber said. "I haven't slept or ate in 24 hours. It's been very emotional for me and our staff."
Weber said he has received support during the last five weeks from friends and fans, taking calls and receiving text messages.
"This is a bottom line business," Weber said. "We all know it."
Weber thanked Ron Guenther, who hired him away from Southern Illinois to replace Bill Self. He said he leaves the program on solid ground.
Weber praised the work of his assistants: Wayne McClain, Jay Price and Jerrance Howard. And he thanked the basketball support staff.
Many of the Illinois players attended the press conference.
Recruits also weighed in throughout the day Friday.
“It a day every commit and every player just fears,” said Mount Prospect senior Mike LaTulip, who has verbally committed to be a preferred walk-on at Illinois in 2012-13. “I’ve developed relationships with the whole coaching staff, really, really good relationships. You hate to see it happen like this. It’s just a sad thing to see. I can’t say enough about Bruce Weber and the guy he is – just genuine, honest and loyal. I’m blessed to have developed a relationship with him.”
If Illinois receives a bid to the NIT, Weber will not be the coach. Howard has stepped in as interim head coach. Thomas said any decision to keep Howard in the future will be up to the next head coach.
"I'm a big Jerrance Howard fan," Thomas said.
Weber has three years left on his contract and is due $3.9 million.
Thomas said a national search begins immediately. He said there is a "strong possibility" that he will use a search firm.
"I'm excited about the prospects for this program in the future," Thomas said.
Thomas said the decision to fire Weber was not based on this season, but on the body of work. Like he did with the hiring of football coach Tim Beckman, Thomas said the goal is to win championships.
Thomas said he is looking for a coach with the ability "to recruit at a high level." He didn't eliminate the idea of hiring someone who wasn't a head coach.
"Really, the thing that trumps all is that we're going to do things the right way," Thomas said.
Thomas said he hopes Illinois assistants Jay Price and Wayne McClain stay with the team if it receives an NIT bid. Illinois is considered a strong candidate to be in the 32-team field, which will be announced Sunday night. Thomas said the school isn't interested in a CBI or CIT bid.
Weber is reportedly being considered for other college jobs, including Southern Illinois. He remains wildly popular in Carbondale.
"I think somebody would be lucky to have Bruce Weber as their basketball coach," Thomas said.
Thomas said he would like to have stability in all of his programs. He said he didn't take the Illinois job thinking he would have to make major changes in his first year, but it happened.