Tate: Groce's ouster not a simple task

Tate: Groce's ouster not a simple task

Due to the uncertain status of Northwestern scoring leader Scottie Lindsey (flu), Las Vegas oddsmakers were slow to announce the spread for Tuesday’s game with Illinois.

One early report indicated it might be as much as eight points. Later Monday, after Wildcats coach Chris Collins said Lindsey won’t play, it dropped to six.

Just guessing, but of 172 games since 1908 — 132 of which Illinois won — there may never have been a time when Illinois was regarded so much weaker than NU. And this with a 15-point scorer sidelined.

So here’s my question: At a point last month when it became apparent Illini goals would not be achieved, when everyone realized that the defense had irreparable holes and opponents showed up with superior jumpers and penetrators, wasn’t it time to drop the nitpicking and accept certain inevitabilities?

No, not give up. Just bow to reality.

Difference in future
For Josh Whitman, this situation is much more complicated than for fans whose clear call is for change, Change, CHANGE.

This isn’t a normal case. Customarily, when the coach is on the “hot seat,” recruiting tends to languish. More bad around the corner.

That was the case in 2012 when Bruce Weber was removed. The only freshmen joining Groce were Devin Langford and walk-on Mike LaTulip. Freshmen who arrived with Tracy Abrams the year before — Mike Shaw, Myke Henry, Ibby Djimde and Langford — were soon gone, as were Meyers Leonard and Crandall Head.

Thus began Groce’s propensity for transfers with immediate additions of Sam McLaurin and Rayvonte Rice.

This is different. Despite losing 21 of 29 Big Ten games, Groce has fashioned his best recruiting class.
Jeremiah Tilmon (6-foot-10) is ranked No. 17 in the country by scout.com. Point guard Trent Frazier is No. 77 overall and the No. 2 guard in Florida, and his point production is vastly better than many of those ranked ahead of him. Both project as starters for Illinois next season, and Da’Monte Williams and Javon Pickett are solid pickups.

Weighing on Whitman
Whitman spent considerable time with Tilmon and Edwardsville prospect Mark Smith on Saturday, so those young stars can compare his words with the negatives they’re reading on social media. It may ultimately be Whitman’s task to help hold this recruiting class together.

Illini Nation chatter weighs on the side that you can’t base a coaching decision on recruits. But it remains one factor in the equation along with staff buyout costs, timing and availability of top-rated successors, and how attendance and contributions might respond to the extension of Groce.

Most UI supporters trust Whitman with this decision. We all do, that is, until he makes a decision we don’t agree with.

Whitman will listen to all sides. Feedback is heavy from Chicagoland. He’ll hear from Dana Howard and the St. Louis contingent on the positives of Cal coach Cuonzo Martin. (Martin is now recruiting Smith and Tim Finke, but for who? Cal? Missouri? Illinois?)

Whitman knows that former Illini Jerry Colangelo likes Mike Krzyzewski’s USA assistant and former Pelicans head coach Monty Williams. Whitman has heard the push for dozens of others, including former Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, now flailing with the Chicago Bulls.

Some programs like Arizona and Virginia Tech are already upgrading and extending their successful coaches with the realization that several schools like Illinois may be in the market.

Knowing who’s next
If the Lovie Smith football hiring is any indication, Whitman won’t make a change unless he has a successor in his pocket. The feeling here is that he won’t hire somebody’s assistant or another short-term successor from a mid-major.

Methinks he would, after weighing everything, want to make the same kind of splash that he made with Smith. As for taking on another outlandish salary, consider:

SEC officials made it public that long-term members of that conference received more than $40 million in media distributions in 2015-16. Big Ten distributions are widely reported as greater ... which means, basically, Illinois can pay a basketball coach $20 million (plus perks) over six years and never blink.

The Big Ten check is in the mail, and distributions will leap further with the new rights contract.

That said, don’t discount Whitman’s strong relationship with Groce. More than anything, Whitman would like to be given reason to retain him. But Groce, having languished through another rough January, is making it hard. After all those defensive woes, the UI offense produced just 43 and 57 points in the last two games.

Groce said he doesn’t want player disappointment to reach the frustration level. The fans are already there.

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

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JamesB wrote on February 07, 2017 at 12:02 pm

I'm not convinced that Groce could take five 5 start recruits and put together a consistently competitive team.  His tenure here has produced teams that play poor defense, can't execute on offense, cannot shoot, lack in ball handling skills, and play flat far too often.  I'm not sure if it is the players or the coaching, but I'm beginning to suspect it is the coaching. 

My vote (which I am sureWhitman will consider) is too make a big hire who will be able to keep the incoming class committed.  Even if we do lose some recruits, it is a small price to payif it mean upgrading our coaching staff. We can't take much more of this boring brand of basketball.

Moonpie wrote on February 07, 2017 at 2:02 pm

Pure cheerleading horsepucky from Ancient Tate, seasoned liberally with sharp elbows at the traitorous fans for daring to be such simpletons and not have the insider brilliance of Baghdad Loren.

Methinks? Really? He used that word?

My money says Ancient Tate can get methinks, trey, and Red Grange all into one useless sentence.

The Great Scribe violates his own rule about predicting the sucess of recruits who have yet to play at Illinois. We're being told to stifle traitorous dissent because the two incoming recruits will be the best thing since sliced bread and somehow offset years of failure from Coach Grimace.

Really, ONLY Ancient Tate can possibly know when, and the required conditions, for firing an Illinois coach. Everyone else is just supposed to shut up. That's lIfe in the Tate Bubble. Sort of like Trump's.

Col. Jessup wrote on February 07, 2017 at 5:02 pm

Moonpie:  You sound like an angry Democrat, my old friend- as if there is any other kind.

jdstieg wrote on February 07, 2017 at 3:02 pm

Moonpie is still spouting even though he has been exposed as being let go by the NG.  Still bitter I see MP.  

jjohnson wrote on February 07, 2017 at 10:02 pm

I love Moonpie; he makes some folks sound downright sensible. Unfortunately, his comments do not seem to reflect with any accuracy what Tate has written; he (Moonpie) might just have a disk full of comments ready to copy and paste.

Illini 76 wrote on February 08, 2017 at 7:02 am

Loren: Thank you for the article and in particular the insight regarding the complexities/nuances regarding the decision regarding the future of the Illini basketball program. I was particularly interested in the Jerry Colangelo, Mike Zrzyewski, Monty Williams relationship. I was not aware of Dana Howard’s involvement in the equation. Lastly, I was pleased to hear that Josh Whitman apparently recognizes and appropriately values the intangibles that John Groce brings to the program; integrity, sincerity, loyalty, and the other correct values. I think that you have fairly questioned some of his apparent shortcomings; failure to establish consistency on offense and defense and player development. I still question whether a compromise is possible wherein there is a revamping of the coaching staff so that Coach Groce stays and some real support is brought in ot help him with the current shortcomings in the program. Thanks.

Tyronius P HoggLegg wrote on February 09, 2017 at 12:02 pm

5 years is not enough time to evaluate a coach????...Enough with the talk of intangibles/the nuances...uh, wins dont count anymore? Maybe moral victories are the new evaluation "intangibles"...So how many years does he get then??? 6? 7? No NCAA for 4 years now...


Oh and it seems like most of the posters here and elsewhere just follow Moonpie around to comment on his comments...