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Illini have sights on 'stability' after Cubit's surprising dismissal

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Illini have sights on 'stability' after Cubit's surprising dismissal

CHAMPAIGN — Stability.

It was a word that was strange to see in an announcement that Illinois’ head football coach was being dismissed.

On his first day on the job, new athletics director Josh Whitman ended the short tenure of Bill Cubit as the head coach of the Fighting Illini and in doing so touted the stability the move would bring.

Stability is something that’s been in short order in Champaign, particularly within the football program. Tim Beckman was fired a week before the 2015 season began, throwing the team into complete disarray. Cubit held things together and led the Illini to a 5-7 season, but his future was always in doubt with just a two-year contract and now he’s gone, too. When Whitman announces the next head coach, he’ll be introducing Illinois’ third football coach since August.

That’s not exactly stability.

But Whitman is looking at the big picture. And he said that Saturday’s decision to again upset Illinois football’s apple cart was the first step in bringing long-term stability to the program, that the next head coach will be the guy who settles everything down, fixes the problems and starts winning.

[MORE BIG TEN: Reports: Ex-Bears coach Lovie Smith could be new Illini head coach]

That’s a tall task, but Whitman is confident that creating short-term instability with the dismissal of Cubit will yield long-term stability in the hiring of a new coach.

“It allows us to go off and hire someone who’s going to be around here for a long time,” Whitman said. “We all understand the contractual challenges that Bill had put that in some question. And the new head coach, I feel fairly confident in saying, will not be on a two-year contract. And so we’ll be in a position to go out and bring somebody in here who can return a level of long-term vision to the program.”

While Saturday’s move was indeed shocking, it can’t come as the biggest imaginable surprise for an athletics department that has experienced what Illinois has experienced since last spring. Allegations of student-athlete mistreatment from former members of multiple Illinois athletics teams rocked the department, with the ones against Beckman found to be true by an independent investigation, resulting in his firing. When further details from that investigation emerged, athletics director Mike Thomas was the next to go. Then came the haphazard, months long search that ended in Whitman’s hiring.

Whitman seems to be a stabilizing force with a grand vision for his alma mater. But he needs to find a head football coach that can make a similarly strong impression.

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Fighting Illini gear right here]

Whitman recognizes what Cubit’s dismissal in the beginning of March — hardly the normal time to be searching for a new leader of a program — looks like: the latest disaster for a department that continues to spiral out of control. But he sees it differently. He’s not looking at this as another screw-up. He sees it as the necessary step to bring about a new beginning.

“As I told our team today, for some people this might feel like another body blow in a series of body blows, that we’ve had our challenges. I see it very differently, I see this as the first step toward what we ultimately want to build,” Whitman said. “And as most things are, this is a question of perspective. And this is the first very positive step toward developing that championship culture, that championship program that I know all of our fans and all of us hope to expect to see. So I think this is a very positive development in the history of our football program. And I understand how some people might not view it that way, but obviously if we didn’t think that this was in the best interest of University of Illinois football, we wouldn’t do it.”

The new football coach could be announced soon. Whitman, as expected, didn’t talk about candidates or lay down a hard and fast timeline. But when asked how quickly a hire could come, he talked about dealing with the university’s human resources department, making it seem like he had someone ready to go, even if he wouldn’t say it directly.

“We have a plan,” Whitman said. “And as you would imagine, the timing of this is what I would call a little bit non-traditional. We understand that. I hope that you would all be disappointed in me if we didn’t have some idea of the direction we hope to take this thing. What we don’t know — we have to work through our university process, the things that we need to work through from the university standpoint. But we’re hopeful to be able to bring this to a conclusion as quickly as we can.”

Reports already surfaced — some as early as during Whitman’s Saturday press conference — that former Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith is expected to be Cubit’s successor. So things could be wrapped up quite quickly indeed.

But regardless of who it is or when it happens, Illinois’ next football hire will be done with one thing clearly in mind: bringing stability to a program that’s been in constant turmoil for months.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.