The press conference actually happened, and as of 1pm today the drama is over and the Fighting Illini have a brand-new head coach for the men’s basketball team: John Groce.
You could tell that AD Mike Thomas was also relieved at the press conference, and he had a much more jovial vibe than yesterday during the introduction of women’s coach Matt Bollant. Thomas cracked a nice little joke that he will only hire coaches with less hair than he has (40-year-old Groce has no hair, Bollant’s is going quickly).
The Assembly Hall had the band playing and was set up more like a concert or political rally than a presser when Groce arrived with his lovely wife Allison and sons Camden and Connor. Allison was sporting the cutest orange dress on the planet, and I wonder if she had that in her wardrobe or did some quick shopping at Marketplace Mall. Groce had a nice orange and blue striped tie, and soon after taking the stage Thomas handed him an Illini baseball cap.
I can’t say Groce has the same energy level as someone like Tim Beckman, but he was clearly excited and said all the right things. He referenced the 1989 Flying Illini and the half-court shot by Nick Anderson to beat the Hoosiers. To quote @jjhparker, “He had me at Flying Illini.” Groce grew up between Danville and Indianapolis, and admitted growing up a Hoosier. He also said he’s a Big Ten guy, and that this was the first and only job he considered taking. That’s the perfect thing to say to us wounded fans who fear our program isn’t as attractive as we thought.
Also during the presser, Groce got a little teary as he introduced his parents. That kind of true emotion is a beautiful thing. I’m not afraid of a man who might cry, as long as it is for the right reasons. Then, as the questions came his way, Groce stayed poised and said all the right things. He isn’t afraid to recruit in Chicago, and mentioned he worked with Evan Turner. Someone “went there” and asked how he felt about people who are skeptical due to his conference record. He said he’s a glass half full kind of guy and optimistic about what’s up next. As for whether he’s going to talk to Meyers Leonard about staying, he said he’s going to talk to ALL the guys and looks forward to getting to know them.
My one fear? Jerrance Howard didn’t seem to be a priority. I know Groce can’t comment on the details of anything, but I would’ve liked some reassurance that they’re going to do all they can to get Howard to stay. Thomas did comment at the start of the presser that Howard has done a great job so far, so maybe that was the effort to give him a shoutout? Sounds like Groce wants to bring in his guys, which is fine, but we NEED Howard to continue to get those Chicago guys. Also, though he said the right things, Groce did look just a wee bit uncomfortable at times. But then again, who wouldn’t?
Aside from that small blip, Groce did a great job. I’m excited to have a coach and can’t wait until the season starts in November. Thomas and Groce stressed that there were no snafus in the process, and there was never a presser scheduled for Tuesday, so perhaps we’ll never know the whole truth. Final deal: $1.4 million over 5 years.
What Groce had to say: “I am thrilled to be the basketball coach here and feel like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our family. The Midwest background and values we share makes the University of Illinois a perfect for us and we’re looking forward to making an impact on the basketball court as well as in the Champaign-Urbana community.”
The Scoop on Groce from the official release:
- Four seasons as HC of Ohio University with overall record of 85-56
- Mid-American Conference Tournament titles and NCAA Tournament appearances in 2010 and 2012.
- Ohio went to the Sweet 16 this year after beating No. 4 Michigan and No. 12 South Florida, and then lost in overtime to No. 1 UNC.
- This year was the second time in Ohio’s school history and first since 1964 that the Bobcats won multiple games in the NCAA Tournament.
- Ohio was ranked second nationally in turnover percentage and third in steals percentage.
- With wins in 2010 and 2012 Tourneys, Ohio became just the sixth school ever to win Tournament games as both a 13 and 14 seed.
- 19 years experience coaching, and his teams have made 16 postseason appearances.
- His overall coaching record is 434-212.
- Spent four seasons with Thad Matta at OSU from 2005-2008.
- Groce played a key role in recruiting many of the top players at Ohio State and was named Rivals.com’s 2006 National Recruiter of the Year.
- From 2002-2004 was on Matta’s staff at Xavier.
- Assisted at Butler from 2000-2001.
- First D1 Coaching job under Herb Sendek at North Carolina State from 1997-2000.
- Started coaching career as an assistant at Taylor University in Upland, Ind.
- Earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Taylor in 1994.