Groce fired from Illinois, national search begins
Illinois men’s basketball coach John Groce has been fired after five years coaching the Illini. He finished his career at Illinois with a record of 95-75, going 37-53 in conference play.
Groce constantly battled with inconsistency on his teams and this last season was a prime example. Things just never ended up clicking for Groce and near the end of most seasons, attention was shifting toward the next year. This time, there won’t be a next year for Groce. It’s time for a change.
Now, all eyes are on Director of Athletics Josh Whitman to see who will be the new coach for men’s basketball, and there has already been some speculation as Groce’s departure has been a long time coming.
I expect Whitman to make a splash. He shocked a ton of people when he hired Lovie Smith for football and impressed many when he hired Chris Tamas after Kevin Hambly’s departure from the volleyball program.
Here are some names I expect to be in the running:
Miller has spent six years as head coach at Dayton and has never had a losing season. His overall record is 139-62 and his team is about to make a fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance. As a mid-major school, Miller has had the Flyers ranked in the AP Top-25 three of his six seasons.
I think Miller would do wonders to the culture of Illinois basketball, and switching from the Atlantic 10 to the Big Ten is a huge upgrade for him. He’s one of my favorite names being bounced around, and I don’t see why he would feel inclined to stay at Dayton. I really don’t see any roots or ties that would cause him to feel pressured into staying.
If Miller were to come to Illinois, I would be excited to see what he can do with recruiting. At Dayton, he did a good job of going out and getting guys that fit his system. Most of the recruits he snagged were rated three stars by recruiting services, but have shown potential to grow as players. At a bigger school like Illinois, I think he would have a larger pool of candidates to attract and in turn, would secure strong recruiting classes.
Going after Miller might take some time as the 24-7 Flyers are expected to receive a tournament berth. I’m expecting a solid run from Dayton and can see the team reaching the Sweet 16. Miller reached the Elite Eight in 2014.
While the Illini have struggled this season, the Redbirds of Illinois State have been playing strong basketball 45 minutes away in Normal. Muller boasts a 27-6 record this season and his team could potentially slip into the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68.
What I like about Muller is that his teams have shown consistency and gradual improvements. Illinois State hovered around 18 wins in Muller’s first two years as head coach, but has since improved, notching two 20-win seasons in the last three years.
Muller is young, yet he has lots of experience, serving as an assistant coach at Vanderbilt from 2001-2012 before becoming Illinois State’s head coach.
While he may not be coming from the most glamorous of basketball schools, he is a name that needs to be strongly considered. After the run Illinois State has put together, I think he is going to be looking for an opportunity to make a jump from the Missouri Valley Conference.
My only concern with Muller is that he could be Groce 2.0. Making a jump from a smaller conference to the Big Ten is not the easiest thing in the world. At Ohio, Groce had multiple tournament appearances before coming to Illinois. We all know how that success ended up transferring over to Illinois.
Marshall has almost monopolized the Missouri Valley Conference with the success of Wichita State basketball. The Shockers have won four regular season championships in the last six years thanks to Marshall.
Wichita State has become a household name because of the brand of basketball Marshall has instituted. Marshall boasts a record of 260-89. Before coaching the Shockers, he spent nine seasons at Winthrop. In 19 seasons of being a head coach, he has a win percentage greater than 70%.
The man knows how to win and that winning culture has been absent in the Groce era. I would sure like Illinois to get back to winning basketball and I have no doubt Marshall can achieve that goal. My biggest concern with Marshall is his loyalty to the Shockers. He’s spent 10 years at Wichita State while dominating the Missouri Valley and consistently making the NCAA Tournament. Why should he feel so inclined to uproot the sweet gig he already has and come to Champaign?
If he were to come to Illinois, I could see Illinois making the NCAA Tournament in about three years. It might take a bit of time for Marshall to adjust and get his feet wet, but when he does, it would be a great sight to see. Wichita State is about to make a sixth straight appearance in the Big Dance. He’s reached a Final Four with Wichita State, so who’s to say he couldn’t do that with Illinois?
Drew is a stretch of a candidate, but still one that I think should be considered. Securing Drew would be a challenge for Illinois as Drew is just wrapping up his first season with Vanderbilt and is under contract through 2022. But, if it’s a possibility, I think it’s one the Illini should pursue.
Drew has proven his success as a head coach. He took over the head coaching role at Valparaiso in 2011 after his father retired. Drew reached the NCAA Tournament twice while posting a 124-49 record in five seasons with the Crusaders.
Now, in his first season with Vanderbilt, Drew finished 19-14 in the regular season with upsets over Florida and South Carolina, losing to Kentucky by six points on two separate occasions.
Illinois is an attractive destination for Drew because the Big Ten is historically a better basketball conference and Illinois is better known for its basketball than Vanderbilt. But, one major element that Drew possesses is his assistant coaching staff.
Vanderbilt’s associate head coach is a name that many Illinois fans recognize: Roger Powell Jr. A forward for Illinois from 2001-2005, Powell was a crucial part of the 2005 Illinois Final Four run.
Powell became an assistant coach at Valparaiso in 2011 when Drew was hired as head coach, following him to Vanderbilt. If Drew were to come to Illinois, Powell would be right alongside.
Matt is a Junior in Business.