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Complain all you want, Groce is still the guy for now

Illinois+head+coach+John+Groce+claps+for+his+team+during+the+game+against+Penn+State+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Saturday%2C+February+11.+The+Illini+lost+83-70.
Illinois head coach John Groce claps for his team during the game against Penn State at State Farm Center on Saturday, February 11. The Illini lost 83-70.

Illinois head coach John Groce claps for his team during the game against Penn State at State Farm Center on Saturday, February 11. The Illini lost 83-70.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois head coach John Groce claps for his team during the game against Penn State at State Farm Center on Saturday, February 11. The Illini lost 83-70.

Matt Gertsmeier, Illini hoops columnist

You can complain, boo and tweet all you want.

Yell until your lungs get sore and type as fast as you can to get #FireGroce trending.

But, it isn’t going to do anything because John Groce isn’t going anywhere.

Illinois sits at No. 13 in the Big Ten standings with five games remaining on the schedule. If the season were to end today it would be the worst Big Ten finish in Groce’s five years as head coach. But, I don’t think he will be fired.

Here’s why.

Groce and Director of Athletics Josh Whitman appear to have a close relationship. Whitman ultimately has the power to fire Groce, but the fact that they have a strong bond is going to help Groce stick around.

When Whitman was hired by Illinois in February 2016, he made a statement that Groce was the right guy for Illinois basketball. This was right after he fired football coach Bill Cubit and after Groce’s team had a rough 2015-2016 campaign both on and off the court.

Whitman’s confidence hasn’t seemed to falter.

In fact, I would even go as far to argue that Whitman is Groce’s No. 1 supporter. Whitman has been seen at almost every home and away game for the Illini this season. There’s video of the two embracing after recruit Jeremiah Tilmon committed to Illinois and I even spotted the two in the same box at the Dierks Bentley concert last October. Whitman has Groce’s back.

I don’t think this necessarily means Groce has an indefinite grace period. I would bet there is some mutual understanding of what Whitman expects Groce to accomplish in the next couple of years.

And next year has the potential to be a special season.

I believe Groce’s incoming recruiting class has saved him for this next season. If he gets fired there is the fear that he will lose his recruits, and I’m certain Whitman is considering that. This incoming class of 2017 is one of Illinois’ best recruiting classes in the last 15 years and by far the best Groce has signed for Illinois.

If Groce gets the axe, all of that talent could be threatened. From what I’ve seen on Twitter and during their official visit to campus, this recruiting class has a special bond. I’m not sure how all of the recruits would feel if Groce was gone, but one recruit would for sure be upset.

One of Groce’s biggest advocates is his four-star commit Trent Frazier. The 6-foot-2 guard is averaging about 28 points per game for his high school in Wellington, Florida, and has been active on Twitter supporting Groce.

On Dec. 29, 2016, Frazier sent out a string of tweets saying, “Don’t get rid of my guy, GROCE, he needs to be there when I’m there” and “Coach Groce is one the best coaches in College basketball that’s my guy”.

Groce is contractually obligated to be Illinois’ guy through the 2018-2019 season. The University isn’t going to want to pay both Groce and his replacement for the next two seasons if he were fired.

I don’t think that means Illinois is going to keep him until his contract expires, but I think it makes a strong case to keep him for the remainder of this season and possibly all of next year.

I’m not writing this column to pledge my support of Groce or to campaign against Groce.

I’m writing it to advise everyone to save their breath and rest their thumbs.

Groce is going to be here longer than you think.

Matt is a junior in Business.

[email protected]

@MattGertsmeier

7 Comments

  • Sally Balderick

    So what you’re really saying is “wait til next year”, just like the Cubs. And in 108 years Illinois will be back to competing in the Big 10 and making the NCAA tournament. Ron Zook was given 7 years to screw things up. Bruce Weber got 9 years. Why not just give Groce a lifetime contract? Or maybe we can bring back Bill Self after all the trials.

    • R.A.W.

      I think everyone here is being a little harsh with Matt. He is not saying Groce deserves to stay or even that he should be retained. Matt is simply looking at the facts and circumstances and saying (correctly, in my view) that Groce may indeed be around for another year. In a perfect world would I/we prefer to have a Bennett or Miller coaching here next year? Sure. But don’t discount the cost issue. That combined with the quality of the incoming class could well save Groce’s job for another year. We really don’t know Whitman well enough yet to make a well informed prediction. I’m putting it at 50/50 at this point.

  • Michael Dunbar

    How’s it feel to be most lonely guy in Champaign? You have any idea what 2 more years of JG would do to the Illinois basketball program, in worst shape it has been in for too long & too long for you to remember evidently if you’re only Jr.
    I would hope the 2017 class would stay but if it means Travis Ford gets Tillmon so be it, we have to start rebuilding now. John Groce cannot coach it should be evident even to a football guy. JW says he wants to win, it has not & will not under JG. I cannot believe you even printed this article.

  • Larry johnson

    The guy can’t coach point blank for the first time in 30 years I don’t care to even look at a Illinois basketball game so sad

  • Timoteo Perdomo

    Matt Gertsmeier: you need to stop going to Groce’s house for pizza and act like a real Journalist. You cannot let the fact that the guy is likable and nice to you influence your opinion. You should be better than this. John Groce by every metric is the worse coach in Illinois History. He cannot coach, prepare games, make in game adjustments, or develop players. You can bring all the talent you want and John Groce will spoil it. He is just plain bad. 34-30 record in conference as a coach in Ohio (that is pathetic).But was enough for Thomas to hire him in Illinois… Talking about stupidity. And then in 5 years in Illinois he is 32-52 in B1G play with 21-22 at home… What else do we need? He is bad and things will not get better, only worse. We are so bad that Penn State beat us twice in a season PENN STATE!!!! WE are Rutgers bad. And the only people to blame for this are John Groce and Josh Whitman for not firing him intermediately and bringing back some pride to our poor program

  • DominicS

    “And next year has the potential to be a special season.”

    Are you kidding me? Next year will be one of the worst Illini teams of all time. Look at the roster. You’re replacing Hill with nobody. And hoping a couple of freshmen will win you more games than this year, which is 13th in the Big 10.

  • norseman197

    The argument that Groce will somehow be better with next years recruiting class and the remnants of this years team is specious at best. Groce already had 6 top players from the 2013 recruiting class plus Kipper Nichols and Te’Jon Lucas, not to mention the almost forgotten DJ Williams.
    And what has Groce done with all this talent to date? Let’s review:
    2013-2014 season: 20-15 overall, 7-11 in the Big Ten(BT)
    2014-2015 season: 19-14 overall, 9-9 BT
    2015-2016 season: 15-19 overall, 5-13 BT
    2016-2017 season: 14-12 overall, 4-9 BT

    No NCAA appearances,no Big Ten championships. What’s worse, Illinois isn’t even in the conversation or contention for the Big 10.

    The question you need to ask is whether its worth Groce damaging Illinois’ program for another year to keep recruits who could still transfer later? To everyone but the author it appears to be patently clear, it’s time for a change.