The Daily Illini

Editorial: Groce’s firing difficult but justified

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Editorial: Groce’s firing difficult but justified

Illinois head coach John Groce shouts instructions to his team from the sideline during the game against Iowa at State Farm Center on January 25. Groce was fired Saturday after his fifth year with the Illini.

Illinois head coach John Groce shouts instructions to his team from the sideline during the game against Iowa at State Farm Center on January 25. Groce was fired Saturday after his fifth year with the Illini.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois head coach John Groce shouts instructions to his team from the sideline during the game against Iowa at State Farm Center on January 25. Groce was fired Saturday after his fifth year with the Illini.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois head coach John Groce shouts instructions to his team from the sideline during the game against Iowa at State Farm Center on January 25. Groce was fired Saturday after his fifth year with the Illini.

Saturday was a tough day for a good guy.

The cliche of nice guys finishing last was on display Saturday when athletic director Josh Whitman fired basketball coach John Groce. It wasn’t a surprising move — many fans agree that it was time — but that doesn’t mean it was an easy move to make.

This became clear when Whitman talked about Groce at his press conference Saturday. The athletic director talked about how he chose to get close to Groce even though he ran the risk of having to fire a friend. Like Whitman said, although there was one tough day, there were around 365 other good days, and he didn’t regret his decision of connecting with his basketball coach.

If you want to know what type of character Groce has, all you had to do is see how he spoke to the media after the announcement. Many reporters and fans know how difficult it must be to speak after losing a tough game or the job of your dreams. That’s the type of person Groce is.

He was a perfect example of what a school should want in its coach. He’s respectful, led his team with poise and taught them how to be better people off the court. There’s a reason why Whitman had such a difficult time firing his friend and talking about him in front of the media.

But the fact of the matter is, the results weren’t there. Illinois only made the NCAA tournament once during his five years as coach, and that was in his first year with most of his predecessor’s players. The Illini haven’t made the NCAA tournament for the fourth-straight season — something that hasn’t happened since 1980 — while Northwestern just made its first tournament appearance.

This is unacceptable for Illini fans.

Change was needed, especially after Thursday’s blowout loss to eventual-champion Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.

We also want to reaffirm our confidence in Whitman. Boy, did the group of interim administrators hit a — pardon the cliche — home run. They couldn’t have chosen a better ambassador for Illinois sports. We know the next hire likely won’t have Lovie Smith’s stature, but we and other Illini fans should be confident that Whitman will do whatever it takes to land the big fish and bring Illinois basketball back to what it was a decade ago.

So yes, it was time to say goodbye to Groce, but we’d like to thank him for representing our community the right way. We wish him and his family nothing but the best with whatever comes next.

He could’ve taken the negative route, but like he has most of his time here, he chose to be the better man.

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