Mar 9, 2012, 12:30 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS – What started as speculation this morning has turned into confirmed reports.
Bruce Weber, coach of the Illinois Fighting Illini for the past nine seasons, has been fired.
That shouldn’t surprise you, and neither should the impending rumors and unrealistic replacements that get Illinois fans excited and non-Illinois fans laughing.
Already names like Shaka Smart, Frank Martin and Anthony Grant are making the rounds, and while they don’t fall out of the realm of possibilities, they certainly should all be chased with a dose of reality before jumping to conclusions that this program will unquestionably make a splash when replacing Weber.
Simeon high school head coach Robert Smith may also be in the mix, which basically is a euphemism for “Jabari Parker’s chances for committing to Illinois just increased”.
What will be interesting to track in this developing story is what is deemed as a suitable replacement by Illini fans. A fan base that constantly complains about missing out on elite recruts from the Chicago-area, that same sort of distorted reality will likely carry over to who should be the next coach of their beloved program.
We saw this last season with NC State. Before they hired Mark Gottfried – an adequate and fair hire – Wolfpack fans were sure they would land a Rick Barnes or Sean Miller; someone that would restore glory to their program. It didn’t happen, nor should it have.
According to reports, Weber’s salary in Champaign was $1.5 million this season. This figure exceeds the reported salaries of all the aforementioned coaches with the exception of Grant, but not by much. Martin rakes in $1.3 million a year and Smart – who will probably become the most coveted guy in this search – just got a fresh new eight-year deal worth a reported $9.6 million to stay on as coach of VCU.
Already, the media is nudging Smart on his interest level, and already the vague canned answers are flowing.
Whether or not he can be lured back to the part of the country he grew up in, on the heels of grabbing an incredibly secure job in Richmond, is entirely undetermined at this point. Would Smart even want to get involved with a program that will expect results from day one? Financially, he’s already been rewarded for his Final Four run.
Where Illinois thinks they stand in the hierarchy of college basketball, compared to where they actually stand, will be fascinating to watch unfold. You and I think they’re “third cut” when it comes to program prestige. The Orange Krush think they’re “second cut.” Many schools have this problem, but it seems to abnormally pervade Illinois.
What the college basketball coaching fraternity thinks about Illinois, paired with the school’s budget, will be what determines Weber’s replacement.
Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN.
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