Tate: What's gone wrong in Groce era? Far too much

Tate: What's gone wrong in Groce era? Far too much

Disappointing! An abject failure!

Based on the record ­— two NCAA tournament victories in 11 seasons — that’s the status of Illini men’s basketball.

And John Groce must accept responsibility for the last five.

He arrived directly after a Sweet 16 run at Ohio, his two tourney triumphs in 2012 doubling his number at Illinois. For his critics, a 34-30 audit in the Mid-American Conference is pinpointed as more revealing.

He is now the target of fans who expect — no, demand — a great deal more. If a coach doesn’t win games at Illinois, his unfavorable numbers metastasize.

A 37-53 Big Ten record, coupled with four straight non-NCAA seasons, has put Groce’s future in jeopardy. An anxious Illini Nation awaits the word.   

Nice guy finishes last
It isn’t that Groce and his staff didn’t go about it the right way. But “squeaky clean” doesn’t always pay off in a business made wobbly by underpinnings of corruption.

At the very least, the game carries unethical overtones by soiling institutions of learning with one-and-done migrants who only want to spend the winter and leave.

Success while exceeding the sport’s rules has been reported here before.

More than half the championships since 1960 were won by coaches who did so at some point, or had others do it for them ... and that’s just the ones who got caught.

Groce never palled around with or moneyed insiders who only needed a wink or a nod ... the descendants of those who repeatedly got Illinois sideways with NCAA investigators in a pockmarked past.

That’s to his credit. He reeked with ethics and energy, positivity and dedication. He’s a good guy, and he deserved to win. But too many painstaking recruiting efforts backfired with players who gave indications that they were interested and who, on two critical occasions, changed their minds in the 11th hour.

Groce made last-ditch adjustments to attract transfers, not exactly a long-range solution. He was further derailed by injuries and external problems. The retention of Kendrick Nunn alone might have allowed the team to turn the corner this season.

On the sidelines
Another voiced concern is Groce’s coaching style, which often involves a swinging door of subs. He is overly animated and so engaged ­— calling out plays — that some former Illini stars believe he would be hard to play for. The free-wheeling styles of Indiana, Michigan, Iowa and Maryland are more player-friendly.

Josh Whitman’s decision on Groce is a complicated one. When an athletic director becomes embroiled in a multi-million dollar quandary, the president and the Board of Trustees are automatically involved. We’ve seen their influence in previous cases.

So Whitman must work in consultation with superiors, keeping an eye on the costs and the availability of an acceptable successor, and what his decision means to fans, faculty and those in his department.

One big question mark
For most failing teams, recruiting falters. Blue-chippers usually join winners. That’s the wild card here. Groce has lined up his best incoming class.

Here again, a complex problem emerges. If Groce is released, some signed stars may seek releases, putting Illinois further behind the 8-ball.

And even if all the freshmen arrive, they’ll be entering a Big Ten Conference loaded with second-year standouts ... particularly at Maryland, Michigan State, Penn State and Iowa. Surprising Minnesota and Northwestern should be even better next year and, barring NBA departures, Purdue and Indiana will be formidable. A down league in 2017 could be up in 2018.

Here’s the bad news: When you reach this level of ineptitude, when you lose 10 games by nine points or more (in some cases, much more), it usually takes time to regain consistency. Regardless who the coach is, patience will be needed.

But the good news is that, if kept intact and given time, the incoming class could form the nucleus to make Illinois a contender down the road.

In the final analysis, the Groce decision can’t be made with the cheers of 15,544 resounding after the win over MSU, nor in the quiet surroundings of Washington, D.C., on Thursday. The weight of five seasons must be placed on the scales. Whitman is doing exactly that.

One additional thought: Groce arrived at the same time as Matt Bollant, raising the question — since Bollant’s failures have been even greater — how Whitman could fire Groce and retain Bollant. Folks are asking: Is it simply because poorly-attended women’s basketball doesn’t carry enough weight?

Loren Tate can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.


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Wiseguy1130 wrote on March 11, 2017 at 12:03 am


I thought someone referred to Tate as an opinion writer.This effort seemed meandering, although  generally my interpretation would be:  pit bull bites neighbor's cat. 

And I think  I suggested that would happen several days ago. Remember, when Tate was emphatically declaring the conversation regarding Groce's future was left in the dust, laid to rest, however you want to call it-- because of that "glorious" MSU win.

I was hoping for a very definitive declaration, not a hedging over Whitman's decision as the expected Tate reversal was presented.

And I mean other than what I see as his suggestion or advance excuse making that next year's team doesn't have much of a chance regardless of who the coach is.

Moonpie, I think we may have lost the cheerleader.



Moonpie wrote on March 11, 2017 at 4:03 pm

Wiseguy1130 -- all of a sudden, Ancient Tate realizes that The Grimacer is not a great coach! Amazing! So perceptive! And only a couple years after the rest of us.

If only Ancient Tate had to leave town with Groce. And then leave his cheerleader's bubble for the current century.

You are right -- just days ago, The Legendary Scribe crowed that The Grimacer had saved his job.

A Tate column has all the credibiltiy and reality of a Trump tweet.

Bring on the new coach! The greatest thing since sliced bread, AncientTate will proclaim.

But I do imagine that Tate has time to get his cute little cheerleader outfit back from the cleaners.

Wiseguy1130 wrote on March 11, 2017 at 4:03 pm

Moonpie--hilarious closing!

Hope Tate has a backup uni. Gonna need it sooner than everyone thought.

Green Shirt wrote on March 11, 2017 at 7:03 am

Bollant can legitimately return even if Groce does not for several reasons:

1) Women's basketball at Illinois lacks the tradition of the men's team, i.e. expectations are much lower.

2) Women's basketball is a non-revenue producing sport (and always will be).

3) Bollant has a young team that was showing definite improvement during the year.

4) It is very doubtful that a replacement with a better resume could be found.

BruckJr wrote on March 11, 2017 at 11:03 am

I agree Green.  I would argue semantics with you on number two, though.  The women's basketball program does generate revenue, though probably not enough to show a profit.  Looking at the empty seats in the stands for most of the men's games this year I'm not sure that they turned a profit and it will be worse next year if Groce is back.  I would add that Bollant's players aren't regulars in the police blotter like Groce's are.

DaisyJ wrote on March 11, 2017 at 7:03 am

Non Wise Guy.  You read every word of Tate today didn't you?  All of it.  For someone so much smarter I find that should be a boring task, waste of your time. A closer look may someday find you are Moonie under a differ moniker. Look, Tate pointed out some good points that in checking back I have never seen in your top notch writings on here. Points we smart readers never bring out. Show me where you have pointed out that Groce had no scandals, the loss of Nunn hurting and how it affected the team or even the number of NCAA wins the last 11 years. Mr. research buff, Tate beat you to those points as you read it for yourself. So, keep reading, after all, I may be Tate myself under the DJ moniker.  Keep pointing me out as stupid, even stupider the NG for hiring me all these years and then letting me provide a fee story in retirement. You need to stop reading and then commenting as the NG just sees that as people like you reading my stories.  Think about it. LT

Wiseguy1130 wrote on March 11, 2017 at 10:03 am

Hey DaisyJ.  I don't think you are really LT, despite some similar erratic rambling.

The non-words stupider and differ gave you away, as well as your faulty grammar.

Well actually, differ is a word.  But it is a verb. So congratulations on that. You just successfully converted a verb into an adjective.

The extreme defensiveness, however, left just a tad, or would you prefer to call it a Tate, of doubt.

I believe you have done your share of thumping on John Groce. Why is Loren Tate not fair game for critique of his work?

The answer, for those of you playing along at home, is...

He is.

I also think the "I'm not Moonpie" conversation, is not only unnecessary, but also really silly and needs no further clarification.

If YOU could bring yourself to pay attention in class here, you might learn something. And you'd see that the writing styles(what I call rhythm and tone) of me and Moonpie are not at all similar.

So wise up.

DaisyJ wrote on March 11, 2017 at 11:03 am

I have found  my grammar is good enough for you to understand. I see you are a want-a-B English teacher now also I think your hammering of Tate is something anyone can do, especially those that attack the messenger instead of just disagreeing and making fact based points as Tate does.  But, you find it difficult to not put me down as you did in your reply. 

Wiseguy1130 wrote on March 11, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Try to keep up Daze. And I say that affectionately, of course.

No one is "hammering" Tate. Just commenting on his "observations".

I am not a want-a-be or even a wanna be English teacher. Even though I learned in third grade the difference between your and you're, their, there and they're. Or perhaps, deep down, I am a want to be.

Yer (note an unseen smiley face) the one who keeps "attacking" my commentary on Tate's reversal of opinion on John Groce.

Is it really just all of a sudden that the situation became as grim as he states as this column begins? After MSU, all was rosy, remember?

That should put an end to remarks from those grumblers.  Or something real close to that.

Now, Groce's tenure is: Disappointing! An abject failure.

I agree with his comments on John Groce as a person of high character.

Apparently, you haven't noticed that I have made many references to that in the past.


Moonpie wrote on March 11, 2017 at 4:03 pm

DaisyJ -- I'm not Wiseguy1130. Get over it. That's fake news. If you believe that everyone must have the same opinion and blindly follow an authority figure, then maybe there's a job for you at the Trump White House.

All would-be dictators, from Ancient Tate on up to The Trumpie, thrive on blind obedience.

jk3363 wrote on March 11, 2017 at 5:03 pm


An 80 year old sports writer who writes, at best benign, articles about his local sports team is not a tyrant in any way, shape or form. 

How does saying "I hope Groce does well" on par with any authoritarian movement in history? Seriously, I want an answer. 

You are down right delusional. Get a sense of perspective.

jjohnson wrote on March 11, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Am I the only one who finds sophomoric and off-putting the silly chatter between moonpie, DaisyJ, and moonpie's alias? Take it outside on the sidewalk (if you can get out of your basement, m-p) and allow the comments to deal with the sports and not your personal beefs.

Wiseguy1130 wrote on March 11, 2017 at 3:03 pm

So you're one of those speech silencers, JJ?

You know. The people who want to shut down anything they don't like, don't agree with, can't comprehend, etc.

Frankly, I missed the sports related theme of your remarks.

In case you hadn't noticed, you click comment at the end of a story. I don't think the intent is that folks would respond only if they played grade school sports and think that somehow makes them an expert like you JJ.

I personally find the wordage fascinating. Particularly if from a skilled writer like OrlandoIllini, even though the Big O has sideswiped me more than once. And yes, Moonpie, who most of you love to hate.

But even if it's just someone saying, "I don't know how they can win if they keep shooting 34%", they're expressing themselves.  And that's ok with me. Even if I disagree.

So GO ILLINI!  And bring back the Chief!!

Btw, good analysis from Brownshoe!


Moonpie wrote on March 11, 2017 at 4:03 pm

jjohnson--so, only people who agree with you should be allowed to post here (and likely vote, too).

Sorry, Charlie, but a fan forum is for everyone and not just a select few self-styled elitists.

Start a forum in which only people who adore Ancient Tate may post. That would be a nice little bubble.

Brownshoe wrote on March 11, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Like almost everyone, I think Groce is a great guy. But I think he must go, if for no other reason than TeJon Lucas.

In the 11/15 game against Mckendree, Lucas played 22 minutes and clearly demonstrated that he was a far better point guard than either Tate or Abrams, AND IT WASN'T EVEN CLOSE. But then the next game he only played six minutes and was virtually ignored for many games thereafter.

It is now clear to all that the team plays much better with Lucas at the point, and the coaches EXCUSE for not playing him sooner was because "he wasn't ready." DUH. What else can you expect them to say? "We made a huge mistake and lost a lot of games because we weren't smart enough to have him in the lineup"?

But they did make a huge mistake and we all know it. Lucas was ready, or at least ready enough to play better than Tate or Abrams at the point. To say he wasn't is just a butt-covering excuse. 

If Groce would have played Lucas after the Mckendree game, he would not be worrying about his job right now. He would have had at least a couple of more wins and probably be in the Big Dance.

He is, and has been, paid well enough that we should all want to be fired in his financial shoes, so he has no pity coming on that front.

I hope Whitman can hire Monty Williams to replace him, that would be a home run hire.

If not Monty Williams, then I hope that he can hire a energetic young assistant coach who is a great recruiter. Oh, you say, "not an assistant!" I say, why not. Or would you not have loved to have Chris Collins here instead of "that school up north." DUH

Please come to Illinois, Monty. Don't turn us down.









jk3363 wrote on March 11, 2017 at 5:03 pm

Thanks for providing an acutal sports related take. Not stroking your own ego like some folks here. You are pretty spot on, especially about Lucas. 

Although, bad news: Woj is saying Williams is just focusing on an NBA return https://twitter.com/WojVerticalNBA/status/840668400372334593

A bummer, but he was a long shot to come here. 

jk3363 wrote on March 11, 2017 at 5:03 pm

Good to see you getting a head start on downplaying the next hire, regardless of who it is.

It'd be nice if you just cut the crap and admit you are only here to rag on your former co-worker, not that you actually have any desire to see success for Illinois. Or have anything of value to say about the program. 


annabellissimo wrote on March 11, 2017 at 6:03 pm

I'm writing after the announcement of John Groce's release has been made by Josh Whitman so this may seem a little bit after the fact. I want to respond to Mr. Tate's point that it was John Groce who somehow "lost" recruits: "recruiting efforts backfired with players who gave indications that they were interested and who, on two critical occasions, changed their minds in the 11th hour." That fact speaks to the character of those players and their parents/families/advisors and not to John Groce's character or abilities. Those players were learning a life lesson right there: think only about yourself and your future money-making possibilities and "sc*ew" anybody else; keeping your word does not matter; misrepresenting or misleading is OK because only YOU matter...." and so on. That is not who John Groce is. And by the way, one of those players who the "Illini nation" and the sports press were so lustful about - Cliff somebody or other - who had promised to Illinois and then backed out and committed to another school? That guy, you remember? We were darn LUCKY not to "get" him! Last week we heard Malcolm Hill's remarks about his coach Groce when he said something like "four years ago I pledged my life to him..... he stuck with me through surgeries (in high school)....." and so on, indicating a support and commitment from Coach Groce that spoke to and about the character of each of these two individuals. The University of Illinois men's basketball program should never, ever be - or aspire to be - a farm team for the NBA! We are a great university, not an NBA camp! I have posted comments before about the fact that John Groce coached PEOPLE, young men and STUDENTS, and not just basketball players. I don't know what the magic formula is for being clean, decent, having character and integrity and also somehow getting a team of young men to play excellent basketball during games, but the lessons of basketball and being coached are bigger and more important than winning games. I hope John Groce and his family do really, really well in their future. They may be better human beings than the so-called "Illini nation" deserves.