Illinois announced on Saturday that the school would part ways with head basketball coach John Groce. In five seasons at the helm, Groce made just one NCAA Tournament and two NITs. This year’s team saw its tournament bubble hopes burst on Thursday in a Big Ten Tournament loss to Michigan.
Athletic director Josh Whitman said in statement that Groce was fired because he and his staff “were not able to sustain the level of competitive excellence that we expect at the University of Illinois.” Groce will be paid the remaining $1.7 million from the contract extension he signed in 2014. Associate head coach Jamall Walker was named interim head coach.
Moving forward, Illinois should be able to attract some big name candidates. Whitman made a splash in the college football world by hiring former NFL head coach Lovie Smith last year. While some mid-major coaches in the area make sense – like Dan Muller or Porter Moser – expect Whitman to aim higher. The last two hires at Illinois came from mid-majors – Groce at Ohio and Bruce Weber at Southern Illinois.
Whitman has already reached out to former NBA head coach Monty Williams, according to Woj, but the coach declined in favor of trying to land another NBA gig. Williams is currently working in the San Antonio Spurs front office.
Cuonzo Martin is a name that has been floating around for a while. The East St. Louis, IL native played and coached at Purdue, so there is plenty of familiarity there. He’s been a head coach since 2008, with successful stints at Missouri State and Tennessee before landing at Cal in 2014. The Bears were in the Tournament last year and won 21 games this season. Martin is also rumored to be on the wishlist at Missouri, as well, but odds are he would jump at the chance to return to the Midwest at either school.