Dear new Illini coach ...
To signal in a dramatic change from his predecessor, coach Mike White had Dave Wilson throw a long pass on the first Illini football play in 1980.
The incompletion was cheered. With that in mind, here are some sudden-splash ideas for the new basketball coach.
(1) Just before the first tipoff, blow a kiss to the zebras. Then send the Illini out in a 2-3 zone and stick with it beyond the opponent's first three-pointer.
(2) Watch calmly from a seat on the bench. Sip from a bottle. When the refs blow one, shout out: "Good call!" Save your rants for the timeout huddle. Do those things and no one will remember who won the game (Illinois beat Northwestern 35-9).
(3) Going back, retain Jerrance Howard. This should be your No. 2 assignment and one that you can win. Howard is your connection with players past (Deron and Dee), present and future. Oh, about No. 1: That won't be so easy because sophomore Meyers Leonard appears to have his mind set on turning pro. But it's worth a try.
(4) Hit the juco trail. Quickly, there isn't much time. This hasn't worked particularly well of late, but this squad desperately needs help. You'll probably have two or more scholarships to give.
(5) Toughen the November-December home schedule. If you're going to bring the fans back, they need more than the likes of Loyola, Lipscomb, Chicago State and Coppin State. These weak attractions make up nearly half the home slate.
(6) Don't pay attention to Negative Nellies like those of us who doubt the team will be very good next season. Prove the media wrong.
Just visited Alice. It's wonderful in LaLaLand. Here's her sage advice for the next UI basketball coach:
— Ask family and friends to take fictitious names for the Internet and flood the message boards with favorable comments about you. It can't hurt.
— Alice says hire an assistant coach from Chicago and let him live there. You don't need another coach on the court and, if Chicago is so important, keep a permanent presence there. And don't waste time in Indiana. There is a wall just east of Danville that Hoosier parents won't allow their cage-playing sons to pass.
— Don't be frightened by the patrol cars, police dogs and flashing fire engines after big Windy City prep games. This is their Wonderland.
— Hit some local bars about 10 p.m. and buy a round for the house. With a $2 million salary, you can afford it, and the recipients will have only good things to say ... forever. Then invite the media to a jeans-wearing night at the Esquire and pick up the tab. It'll be years before a critical word is written.
— If your first name isn't Shaka, don't feel slighted. Tim Beckman wasn't the first pick, either.
— Alice says bring in Nathan Scheelhaase to teach the players how to hand off the ball. Then they won't have to pass. And if they must pass and fail to connect, snip off a finger ... a small one ... and see how quickly the passing improves (actually, the Red Queen says, "Off with their heads.").
— Prepare a pat postgame response and never tell the truth. As Jack Nicholson made clear: "We can't handle the truth."
— Invite Bruce Weber back for a game. It might be a while before he accepts, but it's a worthwhile gesture.
OK, leaving Wonderland for reality and a favorite subject: Chicago.
It seems that, at least in part, the open warfare between UI President Mike Hogan, the Board of Trustees and the Urbana campus faculty lays bare the disconnect between downstaters and Chicago, where most of the board is from. Top faculty members at Urbana, some of whom have called for Hogan's dismissal less than two years into his contract, strongly disapprove of his and the board's original plan to centralize enrollment and financial aid in the name of racial and geographic diversity and some misguided notion of efficiency. They are concerned that by pulling together the three campuses, admission standards and control of who gets accepted would be watered down.
Remember, though, that a large majority of Urbana undergrad students come from Chicago and its vast suburbs, and the alumni base is in the hundreds of thousands. That said, the Urbana campus and the Chicago campus are worlds apart, and Hogan's short leash by the board reflects the prominence and dominance of this downstate place.
From a sports perspective, it is appropriate for Mike Thomas to seek a greater presence up north. Repeat: Thomas should try in every way possible. For all our differences, Chicagoland remains an extraordinary resource.
But the populous area is also heavily mined by Northwestern and surrounding universities in Wisconsin, Indiana (especially Notre Dame), Michigan and elsewhere.
No university can expect mass loyalty from Chicago. This isn't Columbus, Ohio.
Ex-Illini's name in ring
Declining the gypsy lifestyle, former Illini great Eddie Johnson has ventured into coaching only in summer AAU circles. But he has never left the game, moving from a 17-year NBA career into motivational speaking with broadcasting, primarily in Phoenix with the Suns.
At the same time, he remains deeply tied to his alma mater and is seeking an audience with Thomas to discuss the Illinois job.
"I see names popping up and I wonder, 'Are these coaches committed to Illinois or do they see it as a steppingstone?' I'd like to see Illinois look in-house, and I'd like to be that person."
It is, of course, unlikely Thomas will hire someone not presently coaching, much less someone who has never coached in college. Johnson understands but points out:
"I spent three years in the Grass Roots program, and I know these five-star players. From the coaching side, I have a philosophy and know how to develop a system. And I have a total belief that I can go back into Chicago and be a successful recruiter."
One more name on the long Thomas list.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.