According to reports, the University of Illinois coaching search– which once focused on Shaka Smart– has ended, and the school will introduce University of Ohio head man John Groce this afternoon as it’s replacement for Bruce Weber who was fired by the Illinois administration on March 9th.
Groce, who led the Ohio University Bobcats to this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament Sweet Sixteen with wins over Michigan and South Florida, also led the team to the tournament in 2009 where they lost in the second round.
A flight bound for Chicago from Athens, Ohio– where the Ohio University campus is located– was set to land at 1:47 PM and indications are Groce would be on this flight and could be formally announced as the new Illinois coach later this afternoon.
The 40 year old Groce has seen great success at Ohio, compiling an 85-56 overall record in three seasons, after serving as an assistant coach at several schools including NC State, Butler, Xavier, and Ohio State over a 15-year period dating back to 1996.
Some doubt among pundits lingers about whether Groce is a consolation candidate for Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas who reportedly also had interest in coaches like Brad Stevens, Frank Martin and Cuonzo Martin, in spite of little of that interest being reciprocal.
Others close to the program are concerned by Groce’s 34-30 Mid-American Conference record, although the majority of the conference losses came in his first two years in Athens.
On the flipside, Groce has been able to effectively recruit the Chicagoland-area and scored his best player this season, D.J. Cooper by recruiting the city. Either way, Mike Thomas and the University of Illinois administration must see something in John Groce to stake the future of a once-proud program on his talents.
I’ll go on and trust their collective judgement.