A New Coach In Big Ten Country

The Chicago Tribune and CBSSports.com reported late Wednesday that Illinois had reached a deal with Ohio’s John Groce to replace Bruce Weber as men’s basketball coach.

CBSSports.com, citing an unidentified source, reported that Groce is expected to meet with his team in Athens, Ohio, on Thursday and will be introduced at a news conference in Champaign later in the week.

The Tribune, also citing an unidentified source, reports that a disagreement on terms of the contract delayed the hiring for a few days.

Groce has been at Ohio since 2008, leading the Bobcats of the Mid-American Conference to the NCAA tournament twice, including a run to the round of 16 this year that ended with an overtime loss to North Carolina.

Weber was fired after nine seasons at Illinois.

Groce comes to Illinois during a messy period for the school, both on the court and elsewhere, and one that seems likely to have complicated the search for a new coach after athletic director Mike Thomas fired Weber.

The Illini went 17-15 in Weber’s final season, losing 12 of its last 14 games to slide from the top of the Big Ten and a spot in the Top 25 to ninth place in the conference. They missed the postseason altogether.

Two university trustees earlier this year declined to vote in favor of a contract for new football coach Tim Beckman after he was hired because the school has never had a black head football or basketball coach. The trustees, Lawrence Oliver III and James Montgomery, are both black but have since said they could support a white head basketball coach as long as they believed the hiring process gave black coaches a fair chance.

Then, last week, university President Michael Hogan resigned under pressure after lengthy, well-publicized tensions with faculty over his management style and some policies he favored.

Two coaches with higher profiles than Groce, Butler’s Brad Stevens and Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart, released statements over the past week saying they won’t be leaving those schools after reported interest from Illinois.

Under the circumstances, both Groce and Thomas appear to have some work to do to win over fans and potential recruits in Chicago, the talent-rich basketball hub Weber was so often criticized for not being able to effectively recruit.

Ohio officials said Wednesday that the school was trying to find money to raise Groce’s salary and keep him there.

In four seasons at Ohio, Groce was 85-56 — a 60.3 percent winning percentage — but 34-30 in MAC games.

His last team was his best. The Bobcats finished this season 29-8 after a run to the Sweet 16 as a 13 seed. Ohio knocked off Michigan and South Florida before taking North Carolina to overtime, finally losing to the top-seeded Tar Heels 73-65.

The 40-year-old Groce helped Thad Matta take teams to the tournament as an assistant at Butler, Xavier and Ohio State before taking over at Ohio.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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