Tate: Rewarding Groce a good move

Tate: Rewarding Groce a good move

If it’s high-stakes poker, and you’re dealt a winning hand, go all in. Play it to the hilt. Push every last chip in the middle.

That’s the Mike Thomas motto, and good for him.

This is the guy who dares to change the name and appearance of downstate’s most iconic structure — the Assembly Hall — in an undertaking that, counting interest on 30-year bonds, will cost 32 times what it took to build it ($8.35 million) a half-century ago.

And this is a guy who uncovered a hat trick of a basketball hire, an absolute grand slam. John Groce didn’t win every game, but he did just about everything right in his first UI season. And Thomas wants him at the reins when the building is finished.

OK, like all these elite coaches, Groce’s salary is outrageous. It’s way more than the president of the university and will soon amount to four times Barack Obama’s $400,000.

But it’s the marketplace. Either get in or join the University of Chicago. Don’t try to play the middle, which is what the UI did when John Mackovic left his fourth UI bowl team behind in a move to Texas or let Bill Self slip away for a Kansas job that now is paying roughly $5 million per annum through infinity.

Special delivery

Athletic directors don’t usually reward first-year coaches with new contracts, and that goes double for those picked to finish in the lower regions of the Big Ten.

But Thomas recognized something special here, just like the rest of us. And the second-year AD understands that even with a juicy raise, Groce will battle for recruits with rival coaches making twice what he is.

Pending Board of Trustees approval in May — when Assembly Hall financing will be revealed — Groce will receive a one-year extension through the 2017-18 season and a bump of $200,000, which will bring his annual compensation to $1.6 million.

Thomas couldn’t make a smarter move. Directors around the country have taken notice of Groce and were carefully analyzing his value as the Illini knocked off Colorado in the NCAA tournament and came within an eyelash of upsetting Miami. That 63-59 result was the only loss throughout a 23-13 season in which Illinois had a legitimate late-game chance to win and didn’t.

Groce took former losers and turned them into believers. The Illini salvaged four games on the last shot, which they’ve never done in the modern era.

Groce’s recruiting efforts have been widely lauded, and on Friday night he added a backcourt transfer, Aaron Cosby of Seton Hall. Now he’ll carry a little more prestige into the upcoming showdowns for Tulane’s fifth-year transfer Josh Davis, Chicago Curie center Cliff Alexander and Evansville Bosse guard JaQuan Lyle.

The UI has infrequently been in the running for players ranked among the top 20 in their class.

On the rise

Thomas sees the “arrow pointing up” even if it might not fly very high next season.

After all, the Illini will miss 1,463 of the team’s 2,465 points and 209 of 280 three-pointers. Everything points to an uphill climb next season.

But Groce pulled his first UI squad out of the mud to attain all the respectability that an 8-10 Big Ten finish could expect. His heartfelt locker room comments in the wake of the Miami loss were classic. It was a low-key, carefully worded Martin Luther King effort, in a different way.

Groce is not above coach-speak, which is necessary in press and fan dealing. But his instinctive reactions in the immediate wake of devastating losses to Wisconsin or in the inspiring upset of Indiana were always right on. And you can’t fake those things.

Maybe you still like Brad Stevens better. He took Butler to two NCAA championship games, a remarkable feat. Groce’s Illini whacked the Bulldogs by 17 in November. Or perhaps you got excited when a red-hot Shaka Smart was the flavor of the day. Michigan whacked Smart’s VCU gang by 25 last month. Or maybe you thought Illinois could attract Mark Few from Gonzaga. Well, the Illini put the Zags on their knees on their own home court.

Nobody’s perfect. Groce has some difficult days ahead. Even as key Big Ten players turn pro — next up, Trey Burke — nearly everybody in the conference has more talent returning. It should be obvious how badly Illinois needs help at center and point guard by all the bushes Groce is shaking.

But here’s the final word. Let’s keep this guy. There are only a few Selfs and Vic Koennings and coaches of that stripe. There’s a little luck involved when one falls your way. Tie a rope around him, even if the rope gets more expensive every year.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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westcoast wrote on April 13, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Agreed on all points.   Loren's last sentence is interesting.  Too bad Guenther was so stubborn that he let Self get away (actually Guenther basically pushed him out) and too bad Koenning couldn't be convinced to stay (that was not well handled by Beckman, in my view).  But let's focus on the present and keep Groce, who is and will be a winner.  We also need to be patient next year with the team.  But, I am more optimistic about Illnois basketball than I have been in a long time.

Now waiting for Moonpie's knee-jerk insults, ad hominen attacks and self-glorifying comments . . .

CecilColeman wrote on April 14, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Guenther pushed Self out? Where did that dream come from?  Ridiculous statement.......

IlliniMike05 wrote on April 15, 2013 at 9:04 am

I'm no Guenther fan, but it's a lazy trope a lot of our fans use, on par with "Duhh, Jamar Smith left Brian Carlwell to die, derp derp!"

However, after Self flirted with the Arkansas job the year before, I think it's fair to say that Guenther didn't really do backflips to get Self to stay.

Illinigrad wrote on April 14, 2013 at 2:04 am

So, when the options seemed less appealing, why didn't Thomas hire Vic as FB coach?  We would be much better off. At least he made the right choice in BB. The verdict on Thomas is still out.  Groce has a more likely chance to keep his job than Thomas.

ad wrote on April 14, 2013 at 7:04 am

Everybody should lay off Moonpie.  Hey-- so he doesn't like Tate...so what?   Tate is a bit of a crank.  

So Moonpie-- keep it up.  Hat tip to your anti-Tate passion.  I've heard that guy berate fan callers on the radio a few times for their call in comments.  It's not always a bad thing for a guy like Moonpie to remind the 4th estate that in the end, they're just reporters.

C in Champaign wrote on April 14, 2013 at 8:04 am

The reason he didn't hire Vic is simple. It is because Vic wouldn't have been "his guy," wasn't his hire, and never would have been beholden to Thomas. One thing is for sure, if Thomas says jump, Beckman screams "how high?" as his toes leave the pavement.

C in Champaign wrote on April 14, 2013 at 8:04 am

The question I have is why, when the Athletic Department and the University BOT approve these massive paychecks for coaches, and tell everyone it's okay because "it's the market," everyone is good with it, but when an administrator for the University, which I would argue is far more important in the grand scheme, that receives anything approaching "the market," everyone screems bloody murder?

GeneralLeePeeved wrote on April 14, 2013 at 10:04 am

Money spent on athletics (i.e., coaches) is 100% generated by the athletic department.  Most through television revenue, gate receipts and private donors.  Not one dime of "University" money (tuition, grants or tax dollars) is spent on a coaches salary.  Also, the money generated from men's football and basketball pays for ALL other sports programs on campus.....including almost 100% of the women's programs.  In addition, study after study supports the fact that wealthy alums donate more to their alma maters when they feel good about that school's athletic teams.....so, the university does benefit when the men's basketball and football teams are successful. 

TheChiefLives wrote on April 14, 2013 at 11:04 am

THANK YOU!  Seems like every month there is someone who needs this explained to them.  I say, "Do you think I'd be a booster if the State of Illinois had access to my donations?"  Heck, I wouldn't even have season tickets if that were the case.

Brad Cortright wrote on April 14, 2013 at 11:04 am

When my wife and I were U of I students in the 90's, I heard the same thing about athletics being self funded, but students were required to a pay a per semester fee for Memorial Stadium even though the only use of Memerorial Stadium was men's football.  

How is the Assembly hall renovation being financed?  Is is fully funded by the Althetic Department?  There are other events at the Assembly Hall, but without Men's Bastetball, I don't think the Assembly Hall would ever had built nor would it be needed at all.

Who is on the hook if the Althetic department over extends itself on the Assembly Hall renovation?  Taxpayers?  Students? 

C in Champaign wrote on April 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Thanks for 'splaining it to me, but I am fully aware of how the funding works for both the university, and the athletic department. FYI, your state tax dollars are not the only money that makes this University function. The University is dependent on public and private grants, donations, and other gifts, as well as student tuition and fees to function. My donations, and ticket purchases help to fund the Athletic department, no differently that my gifts to the UI Foundation help to fund the University and it's programs.

I am simply pointing out that there seems to be a certain amount of forgiveness from the stakeholders when it comes to the massive salaries that we are talking about. Everyone grouses about the President's and Chancellor's pay, but not about coaches pay. Ask yourself which is more important to the community, a good basketball or footbal team and the coaches that employs hundreds of people, or a strong Universtity led by the best possible administrators and faculty that employs thousands. The University of Illinois is the engine that drives our community, not two sports teams. 

afan wrote on April 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

My understanding is there will be a charge for students that will help fund the Assembly Hall renovations.  I don't have the numbers on that fee.  I'm not against a student fee for the renovations, but then I don't have a dog in that hunt.  You can correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure they use the hall for other things besides basketball.  Basketball just happens to bring in the most income.  

Brad Cortright wrote on April 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

I checked out the Assembly hall schedule online before I wrote my comment.  There are only a few special events per month at the Assembly hall.  A few major concerts and the broadway musical series.  There is actually nothing on the Assembly hall schedule after this month. 

I stand by my comment that an auditorium the size of the Assembly Hall would not exist without men's basketball.  Here in Milwaukee, the same special events are presented at venues with seating of 3 - 5K which are better suited for concerts and theatrical performances. 

Men's basketball is the real reason for the Assembly Hall's existence, and therefore, any student fee to support the Assembly Hall is a defacto fee to off set the costs of presenting men's basketball.  If students are paying required fees to support men's basketball and football facilities, then athletics are not self supporting. 

afan wrote on April 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm

You're right that there wouldn't be a venue like Assemly Hall without a revenue driver like Men's basketball providing an underlying reason for the Hall's existence.  But you can't list non basketball related events that are held in the Hall, and claim the Hall is only for basketball.  It wouldn't exist without basketball, but isn't only used for basketball.  Also, your point about nothing being scheduled after this month might be related more to a lack of air conditioning than lack of interest in holding event in the Hall.  

Brad Cortright wrote on April 14, 2013 at 2:04 pm

I didn't claim the Hall is only for basketball.  

allendan wrote on April 15, 2013 at 10:04 am

This is correct--there will be a $25 charge for students each year for the Assembly Hall renovations. BUT--this was voted on by the students, who overwhelmingly supported the proposition, in part because of the usage of the facility only during the cooler months because of the lack of air conditioning.  With a/c, all should expect there to be more events in the building between May and September, although there will always be a bit of a dropoff due to the fact that not many students are there during that same time frame! 

optimator wrote on April 15, 2013 at 4:04 pm

"Money spent on athletics (i.e., coaches) is 100% generated by the athletic department.  Most through television revenue, gate receipts and private donors"

not so much



Brad Cortright wrote on April 16, 2013 at 12:04 am

Thanks for posting the USA Today link.  To be honest, I am surprised there is not more of a subsidy, but I suppose it varies annually.

JimOATSfan wrote on April 14, 2013 at 8:04 am

Seems he now makes as much as Coach Beckman.


oandb wrote on April 14, 2013 at 9:04 am

Loren must want some free golf this summer. Thomas is an idiot. Groce was 8-10 in conference and won one NCAA game. Epic. Why not $500k?  U of I has cut grants to students, made admittance near impossible for in-state students and has more foreign students than any other Big Ten school and is second nationally. The State of Illinois gives little money so the powers that be have gone all-in for foreigners and out of state kids. Pathetic. Yet the DIA continues to surcharge students (now for the new Assembly Hall) while doling raises that aren't deserved. They run their own fiefdom and don't care about the school. Nice role models. Thanks Big Ten network. Thomas is a jackass.

I will say there are many places for Chinese on campus.

oandb wrote on April 14, 2013 at 9:04 am

Forgot to add that Thomas is a jock sniffing loser who hangs around the team like a junior high kid. Get out of the locker room, and quit acting like the kids like you. They don't.

afan wrote on April 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Groce's salary isn't related to admission requirements or the percentage of foreign students on campus.  

You accurately stated the facts of Groce's record, but failed to provide context that would make the stats more informative.  8-10 in the B1G doesn't take strength of conference, strength of schedule within the conference or team expectations into account.  Also, your argument assumes that only the factors you've listed play into the decision to give Groce a raise.  You could be right, but without crawling inside the mind of Thomas we can't be certain.  

oandb wrote on April 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Groce is a UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS employee. Period. I'd rather spend 200,000 in grants to students from the state than give money to an 8-10 coach. As for the admittance policy the school had gone away from Land Grant to private institution. There is zero scholarship money yet the hoops coach gets 200k. And no one knows what the foreign kids get. But you can bet its plenty. Always great when the DIA is accountable to no one.

afan wrote on April 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm

When you say, rather emphatically, that Groce is a U of I employee you're stating a fact that isn't in contention.  There wouldn't be $200k to pay the basketball coach if there wasn't a basketball team bringing in revenue to cover it.  The school could choose not to support their revenue generating athletics programs in favor of using that money for in state scholarships as you seem to be suggesting, but soon those revenue generating programs would cease to generate revenue.  Then the scholarships would be right back where they started.  

IlliniMike05 wrote on April 15, 2013 at 9:04 am

John Groce's salary has nothing to do with how many international students the university has. Or admissions standards for in-state students. Can you find a few more things to falsely juxtapose to his salary? I'm sure you can.

I don't disagree with any of the university's problems you've brought up here. But no attempt at ham-handedly, clumsily trying to connect them to how much John Groce is paid will make it accurate.

Moonpie wrote on April 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

So funny, west coast -- you apply to me the very qualities that don't apply to me but rather fit Oracle Tate perfectly. He's a third-rate hackwriter and self-righteous. You'd think Illinois made the Final Four to read this piece. Sure, coaches are overpaid and that likely won't change. But would Oracle ever point out that Groce's $200,000 raise is enough to hire, what, five new faculty, who would impact far more students than Groce does? You know, actual students who can't dunk. Naw, Oracle just sniffs the jock again and reminds everyone to happily accept that the modern university is merely a football stadium or basketball hall.

afan wrote on April 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm

I'm just speculating, obviously, but part of the reason for this raise and extension may be because of the rebuilding nature of next season's team.  I'm sure Groce is doing everything possible to put a winner on the floor next season, but the fact is they're replacing a lot of starting seniors with freshmen.  The climate around the program next year might make extending Groce difficult, and the time that would've been left on his contract would've put Groce in a difficult lame  duck status which would adversely affect recruiting.  Kids like to know the coach they're committing to will stick around.

Lostinspace wrote on April 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm

If it is true that football and basketball are self-funded, that's good.

This would include salaries, benefits, security, construction, maintenance, utilities, travel, advertising, special tutorials for athletes, etc.

It would allay suspicions if the university were simply to state that these expenses are all covered by athletic revenue.  That would set us apart from other institutions that are clearly over-extended and spending on athletics large amounts of money taken away from academics.

ERE wrote on April 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm
Profile Picture

Brad who?? Shaka who???

Groce has already shown the fundamentals to be a wonderful long-term coach here and represent the U of I remarkably well. And I don't just mean winning basketball games, which he'll do plenty of.

He has the great focus on developing these players as students and young men, which gets to what the heart of the university is about. I frankly think he does things much more valuable than winning games when he shows how much he supports and values the student-players. We should all be proud he's here. He needs to be acknowledged and this was a great move by Thomas. Would he really be happier if he made 3 million a year? I mean the guy's a human being, but I doubt it.  A great Assembly Hall, the awesome Orange Crush, supportive community, and the outstanding play in the Big 10 are what is really going to keep him here. Groce is a Lou Henson class guy.

illinidoc wrote on April 14, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Really?  I thought Obama won it all.

increvable wrote on April 14, 2013 at 10:04 pm

1. I like John Groce and I think he's the right guy for the Illini, but his prestige comes from his success and his personality, not his paycheck. Giving anyone a big raise after their first year is too soon. Are we already forgetting that we're paying Bruce Weber and Ron Zook to work for Kansas State and CBS Sports, respectively? Three years is a reasonable timeframe for a coach to demonstrate that he can succeed in all aspects of the sport.

2. "It was a low-key, carefully worded Martin Luther King effort..." What? A jarring, inappropriate comparison.

IlliniMike05 wrote on April 15, 2013 at 9:04 am

You're trying to use a reasonable timeframe in an unreasonable market. If Illinois doesn't pay Groce more, someone else will. No, I'm not saying he'd leave if he doesn't get a raise. But other schools aren't going to look at his contract and say, "Well, Illinois hasn't given him three years to prove it over a longer period of time, it wouldn't be fair for US to offer him a bigger contract!" It might only be a year, but $1.6M is closer to what the market for a coach of Groce's talents is than $1.4M is. Izzo and Matta each make over $3M. Obviously, they've earned it, and I wouldn't suggest for a second Groce should be anywhere near that yet. But if you're projecting that he has the ability to lead Illinois to the same kind of basketball success- a projection I think is realistic, considering it was just last decade that Illinois basketball was at a level those programs are currently at; clearly, it can be done here with the right guy- then you need to take that chance. It might not be reasonable, but again: not a reasonable business.


DaisyJ wrote on April 15, 2013 at 4:04 pm

You would think different if it were you paying it. Wake up man, why not pay him a million more so no one will get him to leave. Geeze. how goofy is that, how much should he get since you can spend someone else's money so easily.

IlliniMike05 wrote on April 15, 2013 at 6:04 pm

I'm not spending anyone's money. I think others spent their own money wisely given the market for a coach of Groce's talents.

Are you really this dense?

DaisyJ wrote on April 16, 2013 at 11:04 am

Do you feel you need to add really this dense. If Groce said the raise is not enough, how much more would you give him. Really, are you this dense.??

IlliniMike05 wrote on April 16, 2013 at 1:04 pm

I can't do this with you anymore. I wish I could go back in time and never acknowledge any gibberish you've ever written.

DaisyJ wrote on April 16, 2013 at 8:04 pm

That is because  you are doing it with yourself,  you see, most of my comments are your original comments back to you. And, come on , get it off your chest, your birth date, I am right that you are not a day over 30

DaisyJ wrote on April 16, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Or did I just use the 05 , added 20 yrs and 7.... . The three point shot has ruined basketball and here you sat there all these games and thought kids not involved in the shot should just stand there around the line, or if a post man give up on getting a post pass in the middle....the standing around is real, the 3 point shot dumb, and hopefully in my lifetime you and others will come to their senses.

UIUCHoopFan wrote on April 15, 2013 at 11:04 am

In my opinion, Groce got a raise and contract extension because Bruce got one from K-State.  Another example of the tail wagging the dog in the DIA.  The increase will be passed along to season ticket hostages, whoops, holders.

DIA employees certainly are State employees, attending the same retirement and information seminars as the lower level funcionaries when hired on at The Mother U.

DaisyJ wrote on April 15, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Stop with the rewarding. Stop it with the throwing around of money to coach gods. I like him yes, but he is paid enough, and this thowing around of money like we gave Zook and Weber is crazy. Wake up. someone.. stop writing this. Next thing you know we will be giving Sosa and McGuire more money becasue they hit tons of homers, how goofy was that.