Illinois has fired head coach John Groce.
Groce went 95-75 in five seasons with the Illini, posting a 37-53 record in Big Ten play during that time frame. Groce reached the NCAA tournament in 2013, but he had failed to return to the dance in the last four years.
“I want to thank John Groce and his staff for their tireless efforts over these past five years,” Illinois AD Josh Whitman said in a statement released by the university. “Under his leadership, regrettably, we were not able to sustain the level of competitive excellence that we expect at the University of Illinois.”
Groce is a good coach. He had success at Ohio before getting to Illinois, and a lot of smart people thought that he had a chance to be successful. It just didn’t work out, and even with a late run this year, losses to Rutgers in the season finale and Michigan in the Big Ten tournament opener did them in.
Illinois is going to be a job that is pursued by a lot of people. Due to its proximity to Chicago and St. Louis, havens of high school talent, and given the passionate fan base, it may be the best job currently on the market. It will also be interesting to see what happens with the recruiting class that Groce brought in, which includes five-star big man Jeremiah Tilmon and talented guard Trent Frazier.
The name that is going to be associated with this opening the the most will be Cuonzo Martin. He’s a midwest guy that played in the Big Ten and thrived at Missouri State prior to going to Tennessee. He should be able to recruit St. Louis given his connections to the city and, if he makes the right hire, should be able to get Chicago kids into the program as well.
It may end up coming down to a bidding war between the Illini and Missouri for Martin. If Illinois ends up on the losing end of that, or if Martin opts to stay in Berkeley instead of leaving Cal, there are a number of other interesting names that will be tied to the job.
The first two names that Illinois should call are Tim Jankovich at SMU and Dan Muller at Illinois State. Muller just led the Redbirds to a 28-win season and a 17-1 mark in the Missouri Valley. He spent time on staff at Vanderbilt and has experience recruiting at that level. Jankovich, who is currently the head coach at SMU, led the Mustangs to an AAC regular season title despite playing with a six-man rotation and coaching a team that he didn’t take over until mid-July, when Larry Brown abruptly retired. Before going to SMU, Jankovich was head coach at Illinois State.
Baylor head coach Scott Drew is an interesting name to keep in mind here as well, as is current St. Louis and former Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford. Drew may be in the market to make a move away from Baylor given the year that he’s had and the current issues with the Baylor brand, and Ford already has two elite recruits committed to the Billikens that are from the city of St. Louis.