Tate: Trust Whitman to make another tough, smart decision

Tate: Trust Whitman to make another tough, smart decision

“No duty I perform is more critical than decisions pertaining to head coaches.”
— Josh Whitman

You’re likely to be wrong if you try to outguess the Illinois athletic director.

Whitman’s first strike brought down the roof, enticing longtime NFL coach Lovie Smith back into the college game. More recently, with the UI volleyball clan expecting Whitman would attract a seated head coach, and perhaps a woman, he instead tabbed a Nebraska assistant, Chris Tamas.

Fool me once ... fool me twice ... maybe it’s best not to try to predict his next move.

But the most popular game in Illini country these days is projecting how Whitman will handle the bubbling men’s basketball situation.

And the outcome will be clear in little more than three weeks as, barring a dramatic turnaround, Illinois will be eliminated from the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament in Washington, D.C., ahead of Selection Sunday on March 12.

Looking towards March

The flight home from D.C. will surely be a grim one. Perhaps John Groce will know his fate in advance. Maybe not.

Up to now, Whitman has given no hints, other than to express his support for the team and acknowledge an awareness that the 1980s didn’t “belong to the Illini” without Lou Henson encountering bumps in the late ’70s.

Unlike North Carolina State, where rumors surfaced that inquiries are underway to replace still-coaching Mark Gottfried (since denied), Whitman has maintained a tight lip.

The important news is this: Whitman is the sharpest guy in the room, and displays the deepest feelings for his alma mater.

He has inside information of what committed recruits are thinking, and he is surely developing an opinion on the availability of a suitable coaching replacement.

Furthermore, if he favors status quo, he has the backbone to withstand the headwinds of fan discontent that would accompany Groce’s retention.

Keeping tabs on recruits

Under normal circumstances, with Illini basketball literally falling off a cliff, and fan discontent at record levels, replacement would be logical and necessary.

The team has undeniably underachieved, failing to show progress after grievous on- and off-court failures of the previous year. Groce’s substitution patterns drive fans up a wall, and the defensive shortcomings give the appearance of faulty fundamentals (or is it a lack of athleticism?).

Which brings us around to a mitigating factor: recruiting. A decision to fire Groce would open the possibility of fracturing the best incoming class in years.

Here again, Whitman has inside information. He has conferred with prospective athletes, both signed and unsigned, as well as parents. Most of us are blindfolded in this regard. He isn’t.

Studying it from all angles

We’ve seen Whitman act swiftly with Smith and Tamas. If he decides change is necessary, look for him to make another whirlwind move.

Remember, just because he has asked fans to join him in supporting the team doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been analyzing replacement possibilities. That’s his job.

Whitman respects Groce and would prefer to keep him. But in the end, weighing the divergent factors, he’ll make the decision that he feels is best for the long haul. His difficult choices in the past year have been on point. Why would this be any different?

And before you ask: Yes, marginal improvements and promising recruiting on the women’s side indicate that Whitman will retain Matt Bollant. But there I go, trying to anticipate the Illini AD ... and thereby demonstrating that I didn’t learn my lesson with Lovie and Chris.

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

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pblillini wrote on February 16, 2017 at 6:02 am

If Whitman decides to retain Groce, he will be the dumbest smart person in the room.  It's clear the man can't coach, even the casual fan can see that. 

As for the "best recruiting class in years"....I find this statement, which we hear over and over again, laughable at best. One borderline four/five star guy in Tilmon (who if you watch his film is not an immediate impact guy, he's raw and needs development), and three other guys all ranked outside the consensus top 100. That's not any better than what Groce has recruited in previous years really. Tilmon will end up being ranked about where JCL was and we see what Groce has done with him (Leron Black to for that matter).  And the other guys are ranked below guys like DJW and Jordan. Do people really think this is going to put us over the top?  If so, you are ignoring five years of data staring you in the face. 

Tyronius P HoggLegg wrote on February 16, 2017 at 8:02 am

pbillini is right on the money here...hoping the right move will be made...tired of seeing the basketball team become a Big 10 doormat.

Duce20 wrote on February 17, 2017 at 12:02 pm

Bingo. This class actually ranks lower in the point system used by 247 Sports than the 2015 class. I'm high on Frazier but watch his highlights, he's going off against Villa Grove...

OldIlliniFan wrote on February 16, 2017 at 7:02 am

Maybe bring in someone from the NBA.  It's been done before -- Butch van Breda Kolff played for the Knicks, coached Bill Bradley's Princeton team to the Final Four, and then coached the Lakers.

DaisyJ wrote on February 16, 2017 at 9:02 am

We have no other choice but to trust Whitman. But, he is the reason Groce is still here. So strike one in the trust department. Secondly, if he gets the next choice wrong then strike two for him. Finally, the so called great recruiter Groce is suspect. His guys he has in here are not that terrific. And he has an above average on paper group coming in. We should not care if any of the guys coming in stay or go if a new coach is selected. That can never be The reason to be afraid of when making a change.

jjohnson wrote on February 16, 2017 at 12:02 pm

Some interesting and well-thought-out comments by DaisyJ, but I do want to say that keeping Groce for this year was understandable from Whitman's point of view given that it takes much longer to turn around football than basketball and that the potential for revenue increase is dramatically larger for football. When on his first day as AD I heard the vote of confidence for John Groce (however truly fine a person he seems to be) I cringed -- then within an hour or so I got the football announcement and understood completely. It's a tough situation and it is too easy to forget that the current sophomores, who are seeing little playing time, were highly rated as well.

DaisyJ wrote on February 16, 2017 at 2:02 pm

Looking back, I think we all now would have wanted the team to change coaches last year. Whitman is a football background guy, and this is likely why he was ok with making the quick move for a team that played before basketball started. 

Brownshoe wrote on February 16, 2017 at 1:02 pm

If the rumor that Jerry Colangelo is pushing Monty Williams for our next coach is true, I think Whitman would be crazy not to go that route.


That would be the biggest "Home Run Hire" that I could imagine.

Moonpie wrote on February 16, 2017 at 1:02 pm

Ah, yes--this is the Ancient Tate that is so familiar and consistent, the one who insists on absolute allegiance from traitorous fans, who cheerleads the AD because he is an authority figure and so he must be infallible and we have to trust him. HAVE TO. Very Trumpian and ridiculous and also foolish.

The assumption by The Ancient Scribe is that The Rookie AD made a miracluous hire in Lovie Dovie Savior Man, even though his first year record and last two jobs suggest othwerwise.

No one can outthink The Rookie Ad because Mr. Infallible Tate decrees it. And by associaiton, Our Legendary Scribe implies his own infallibility. It's quite like Trump today asserting that his incompetent wreck of an administration is intead a well-oiled machine. Up is down and down is up.

DaisyJ wrote on February 16, 2017 at 2:02 pm

You really do not hide the fact that you would love to have Tate's job do you. Now, please attack me...