DI Sports staff picks: 2022 coaches of the year

Illinois+men%E2%80%99s+basketball+head+coach+Brad+Underwood+speaks+to+fans+during+the+2022+Big+Ten+Championship+ring+and+banner+ceremony+on+Nov.+11.+

Sydney Laput

Illinois men’s basketball head coach Brad Underwood speaks to fans during the 2022 Big Ten Championship ring and banner ceremony on Nov. 11.

By Sports Staff

2022 saw Illinois reach new heights in athletics. It was the first time the men’s basketball team and football team were ranked at the same time in many of the student body’s lifetimes, coaching changes across many sports occurred and the Director of Athletics Josh Whitman continued his relentless pursuit to find the right fit in every position for a sixth full year.

Throughout all of the ups and downs, three coaches in particular stood out.

Evan Clark: Women’s tennis

Complacency is a dangerous issue that can come back to haunt a sports program of any caliber. In order to craft a winning culture built on achievement, the team requires a leader to set the tone for the team and everyone involved.

Evan Clark has been that leader for Illinois women’s tennis this past year. Coming off a mixed 2021 season that saw the team finish 9-9 overall, Clark has shown his ability in the recruiting process to bring in talented players who are capable of bringing home silverware. 

The 2022 spring season saw Illinois improve to 16-9 overall and 8-3 in the conference. While Clark and the Illini have improved, the exciting part is they haven’t reached their peak with the squad he’s built. Clark has made Illinois women’s tennis a force in the Big Ten this past year and is on track to make the program nationally feared with the progress he’s made. 

Bret Bielema: Football

While many Illini football fans will look at the previous season from a “What if” lens, the turnaround in culture and on-field success have been nothing short of impressive. 

In his second year at the helm, Bielema has inherited a team and elevated the stars within it to a whole other level. With a nationally ranked defense, the nation-leading rusher in the backfield and a school record 19 All-Big Ten honorees, Bielema has created a respected program in Champaign. 

Illinois ended the regular season 8-4, highlighted by wins over Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota en route to a six-game win streak. Given more time to develop a program and recruit players, the team is destined to evolve and continue seeing success. Bielema is a large reason for this cultural turnaround. 

Brad Underwood: Men’s basketball

It is no secret that Brad Underwood is the second-highest paid man on campus. However, with years like 2022, he sure is making a case for another raise.

Off the back of a 2021 Big Ten tournament win, All-American guard Ayo Dosunmu left Underwood for the NBA, which could have been detrimental if not for Underwood’s expert recruiting. Bringing in transfers from all over, Underwood took his team to another Big Ten championship.

After this success, Underwood found talent in the transfer portal after returning just five guys from the 2021–22 lineup. Just eight games into the new season and the Illini find themselves in the rankings with a top 10 win under their belts already. He has put a stamp on this program and has set it up to be just as good in the next season.

 

[email protected]