It’s complete turmoil in Illini basketball nation right now, but don’t feel too bad for them for much longer. Nebraska Cornhuskers coach Doc Sadler had to help wipe away the tears of Bruce Weber following the Illini loss by 23 in Lincoln (the Huskers were up 32, and as decorum dictates wisely took their foot off the gas pedal and it could have been worse). Weber’s fate appears sealed in Champaign, and if the University does dismiss him at the end of the season, he’ll receive a $3.9 million buy-out.
Everyone hates to lose, and to fail, but $4 million dollars can remove a lot of tears quickly. Likewise with Meyers Leonard, who’s crying image was all over the web, if he gets his head right, truly gets his game together, in a year or two, some NBA team will cut him a check that gives him a lot of reasons to smile instead of cry. Brandon Paul wasn’t publicly crying, even though looking at his turnovers stats causes Illini nation to. If he cleans that up, he could probably get his someday too.
So there will be rainbows ahead for some of the Illini. Including Bruce, who will eventually land a fine mid-major college basketball head coaching job if he decides that’s what he wants. While everyone is understandably (and often deservedly) criticizing Weber right now, let’s look at the positive attributes he brought to his eight years in Champaign.
5. Ran a clean program
In the oily, seedy world of college basketball, a world that seeps its toxic ooze way down into the high school, middle school level, a man who plays by the rules is a unique paragon of virtue. This gets overlooked, but it’s extremely important.
If you want to stay “clean,” the hire has to be perfect. Bruce Weber himself was seen as this option, remember, a coach who would get the most out of whatever he had, even if he wasn’t the most dynamic procurer of talent. The latter has proven true (not one of his recruits has played a minute in the NBA), but the former has not. The equation broke for him, but that is no reason to think the idea is any less viable now with the right guy.
4. Seems like a genuine nice guy
We know Bruce Weber the coach and public figure. We don’t really know how he is with his players, assistants, family and friends. Weber has always been the nicest guy to the media, and the Illini community. He’s always been as classy as his orange blazer is ugly. His friendly persona will be missed.
3. “Just be solid, just be basic.”
Along with “there’s no doubt,” one of Weber’s most often-used and well-liked phrases. Weber is well-liked with the media because he answered questions, and he expanded into detail on topics. You could often have more material to write with from two minutes of Weber audio versus 22 minutes of Ron Zook. The Zooker was a really nice guy too, but he didn’t give much in terms of game analysis and detail like Weber does.
2. Doing what he could with what he had
Weber came from SIU after guiding the Salukis to multiple tournament appearances, and a couple sweet sixteens. Remember, he came to Illinois, not Kansas or Duke. And he came from Southern Illinois, not North Carolina or Kentucky.
Throughout much of its history, the program has instead been merely average-to-good, rather than great-to-spectacular. For example, the Illini hoops program was in a very similar state to its current one when Henson retired. And that was just 16 years ago.
Many Illinois fans seem to believe that the “glory years” of Self’s three seasons and Weber’s first two is the Illini’s birthright rather than something of an aberration for a program that’s generally regarded as the best to never have won an NCAA title. And while Illinois is a very good program, the fact is that it’s never been a championship one. It’s still trying to get there.
Purdue fans seem to think they have the best program never to have won a national title as well. Anyways, Illinois is much better than missing the tourney in 3/5 years. However, they’re not a program that normally achieves two Elite 8s and three sweet 16s in a five year period. Weber only had the advantage of selling recent history to recruits, not Kentucky Wildcats level history.
1. His straight-forward, honest assessments
Was it right for Weber to give a end-of-the-year, hey-i’m-outta-here style press conference after the Purdue loss, with five regular season games left? Probably not. As evidenced by his team’s failure to show in Nebraska. However, it’s understandable given all the pressure he’s been under, and he accomplished enough in Champaign to warrant a little telling-it-like-it-is on his way out.
You’ve heard the phrase “loyal to a fault,” well Weber may be “honest to a fault.” His best trait is his honesty. The national media may think Weber putting it out there is a new thing, but he does it every day.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports
A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; and he’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.