Big Ten

Kaplan: Illinois basketball has plenty to offer to coaching candidates

Kaplan: Illinois basketball has plenty to offer to coaching candidates

Saturday's news that Illinois had fired basketball coach John Groce after five seasons didn't come as a surprise to those around the college coaching world. Speculation runs rampant when a premier job looks like it could change coaches and the Illinois job was no exception.

Before I talk about potential candidates, I must address the ridiculous notion that some observers have that the Illinois job isn't a highly-coveted position in the coaching world. Talk to coaches around the game and most if not all will tell you that the list of advantages that the Illinois job has is lengthy.

First, the job is the premier basketball coaching position in a state that is perhaps the best in terms of prep basketball talent. The state of Illinois produces more high level high school talent than most any other state in the country. Second, the Big Ten Conference is among the best leagues in the college game year after year.

Add in the newly renovated State Farm Center where the Illini play their home games, an elite basketball practice facility and a rabid fan base and the job is far more attractive to the people in the know in the business than fans may give it credit for being.

The negatives that will come into play include the Champaign-Urbana area which ranks low against the rest of the Big Ten cities. The difficulty in recruiting the Chicago Public League will be a factor that may dissuade some candidates from taking the job but it is not as crucial to the success of the program as some believe.

So how will this process play out behind the scenes? First, I have confirmed that Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman spoke with search firms about potentially utilizing their services but decided late in the season against using one. Why did he decide against using a search firm? Perhaps because he thought he would be able to land Monty Williams, who was his top choice. The fact that the Illini were trying to seal a deal with someone that they wanted to be their next coach while they still had a head coach during the season has raised eyebrows around college basketball as rumors about Williams and Illinois have been bubbling for over a month.

That notwithstanding, Whitman has the ear of Illinois alum and longtime NBA executive Jerry Colangelo who was probably the go between during discussions with Williams who reportedly has no interest in taking the job.

Why wouldn't Williams want the job with the Illini reportedly prepared to pay him a huge salary that would be among the best in college basketball? First, the NBA lifestyle is far more conducive to family life than the position of head basketball coach at a Power Five conference school. In fact, multiple coaches that I spoke with told me that after coaching at both levels they could not see themselves ever going back to the college game if they had a job in the NBA.

Why you ask? Well, one current NBA coach told me that when he went on vacation last summer with his family, his wife's comment to him after 10 days away was "your cell phone has never rung. When we were in college basketball your phone rang 10 times a day."

A college coach is as busy in the off season as he is during the basketball season. Recruiting is a 365 day a year job whether you are scouting players, making phone calls, writing letters or any of the other avenues of contact that are a part of the recruiting process. Add in all the academic responsibilities that are a part of keeping players eligible for competition, staff responsibilities, booster and alumni commitments and media responsibilities and a college coach literally never has any down time.

An NBA coach is off as soon as their season ends and with rare exception they have the entire summer off. From the end of the season until an NBA team starts training camp they have very little responsibility in the office. Coaches love that time to recharge for the grueling season ahead.

One head coach said to me when we spoke today, "I enjoyed coaching in college but coaching in the NBA is about basketball. That's it. We don't have to ever go to the office. We coach our team and that's all we do. Plus, we get paid handsomely. Pretty tough to top that."

Sources have confirmed to me that with Colangelo's involvement, Illinois and Whitman were all in on landing Monty Williams. In fact, they had targeted Williams over a month ago and thought he would accept the job. However, Williams lost his wife in a tragic car accident just over a year ago and he is raising his five children as a single father. That challenge is far more conducive in the NBA than on the 24/7 – 365 merry go round that is college basketball.

After working as a consultant on multiple searches for several different universities let me paint a picture of how the process of hiring a new coach goes. First, after electing to not use a search firm, AD Josh Whitman has to have a go between that he can use to approach potential candidates. A current coach that is under contract cannot discuss employment with another university without violating his deal. Should he discuss a job without prior permission from his school he could be fired for cause which would void his contract.

With Colangelo's involvement the Illini should be able to get to most any candidate on their list. However, the candidates on Illinois list are not going interview for the job. They will only meet with Illinois if they are serious about accepting the position. The process goes like this:

School and athletic director compile a list of candidates and they rank them in order. They then use a go between or a search firm to approach their top candidate. That probably was Colangelo approaching Monty Williams. After he said no the school regroups and approaches their second choice. If he says no they then move on to choice three and so on down the line until they find a candidate that they want and who wants to accept the job.

Once a candidate accepts the job and his agent negotiates a contract the process moves very quickly. The new coach is put on a private plane and brought to campus and he is introduced as the new basketball coach. There will be no public dog and pony show where he is spotted interviewing, looking at houses etc. He has to be prepared to accept the job if an offer is extended to him. If his current school gets wind of negotiations and something falls through he could jeopardize his job so everything has to be done in secrecy and in a very timely fashion.

With Colangelo involved we have to look at who he would probably turn to for advice on college coaches. Who is he closest to in college basketball? That most definitely would be Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who has been the Team USA coach for the past several years. Colangelo is the head of USA Basketball so their relationship could play a huge role in determining who is the next coach of the Fighting Illini.

Here is my list of candidates (in alphabetical order) for the Illinois job. Keep in mind that this list is fluid and could change as jobs are filled and others open.

Tony Bennett - Virginia

Bryce Drew - Vanderbilt

Scott Drew - Baylor

Dan Hurley – Rhode Island

Tim Jankovich - SMU

Gregg Marshall – Wichita State

Cuonzo Martin - California

Frank Martin – South Carolina

Archie Miller - Dayton

Buzz Williams – Virginia Tech

Steve Wojciechowski – Marquette

To attract names such as Tony Bennett, Gregg Marshall and Buzz Williams it will take a financial commitment in the neighborhood of $4 million per season to convince them to leave their current jobs. Marshall is making $3.1 million at Wichita State and with the top job in the Missouri Valley, he may be hesitant to leave a position that is clearly the best in the league and he has dominated the Valley for the past several seasons. The rest of the candidates will all command salaries north of $2 million per year and some will be able to demand $3 million or more per season.

So, add it all up and you have a very attractive job, outstanding facilities and a great conference. Whitman should also have enough money to land a great coach but he has to execute. Can he? I'm betting that Illinois makes a very solid hire.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?