Get Smart March 9, 2012
I pick the craziest times to go out of town. I was in Colorado when Zook was fired. I’m in Florida when Weber is fired. There are two lessons here:
1) If you want real change in Illini athletics, send me out of town.
2) I’m very, very fortunate to have a relative with airline standby passes.
So as I type this, I’m sitting on a balcony overlooking the ocean. It’s 78 degrees, the palm trees below me are swaying in the breeze, and my mood couldn’t be better. I know that’s an awful thing to say when someone just lost their job, but it’s where I’m at right now. I blame the palm trees.
Sometimes, change is necessary for the sake of change. I’ve compared it before to a communications company needing a new CEO or a school district going in a different direction with a new superintendent. What you were doing wasn’t working. Nothing personal. Thanks for the Final Four. Here’s your buyout. Now please go away.
In that construct, I’m over the moon today. This thing I love – this thing that has been mostly great for 80% of my time here on earth – is about to be great again. I know it is. I can feel it. It’s not just the palm trees. Illini Basketball will return to being Illini Basketball, perhaps as soon as next season.
And I’m not being glib when I say “thanks for the Final Four”. I really mean that. Bruce Weber took us to the highest point in program history. The motion offense fit perfectly with Deron, Dee, Luther, Roger, and Augie, and we were within 90 seconds of winning it all. Thanks for the ride. That weekend in St. Louis was one of the greatest weekends of my life. What a ride.
But seriously, now, I’m overjoyed to see him go. Giddy, even. I don’t see those two things as incongruent. Bruce Weber inherited a team of self-motivated NBA talents, and he implemented the right system to make it all work, to the tune of back-to-back Big Ten titles and a title game appearance. But he had no idea how to recapture that, both in recruiting and player motivation. He had to go. It should have happened several years ago. We need a change. Thanks for the ride, now please go away. It’s time for someone new.
It’s time for Shaka Smart.
The next two weeks will be a crazy ride. You’ll see more twitter rumors that turn out to be nothing than you did when Tim Beckman was hired. You’ll see denials and confirmations and writers using “I’m being told that” so they can hide behind a so-so source. You’ll get impatient waiting for the job posting to expire (it was an 8-day job posting for the football job), and you might even get impatient waiting for VCU to lose in the NCAA tournament. But at the end of it all, when the fog clears, my hope is that Shaka Smart is wearing an orange tie at a press conference in Champaign.
He’s from southern Wisconsin (Oregon, WI to be specific – a small town south of Madison). His wife went to Northwestern (a forgivable offense). Growing up in the area, and having a wife who went to a Big Ten school, I am certain he understands what it takes to win in the Big Ten. Namely, own Chicago and you own the Big Ten.
Yes, I know it’s “not just that easy”. Yes, Illini media types, I can feel you typing your “Chicago is a wild stallion that has yet to be tamed by any coach in Champaign” article as I write this. I’m not expecting a coach to come in and grab every CPL and Simeon recruit. I don’t even expect the next coach to get half of them.
But I fully expect the next coach to own Chicago. And I think Smart is that guy. Charismatic, young, and energetic – everything needed to break down the I-80 barrier. I think he can earn the adoration of not only Ty Slaughter and Robert Smith, but also Waddle and Silvy. And the Trib and the Sun Times. And the Mac Irvin Fire and the Illinois Wolves. Build something in Champaign with puzzle pieces from Chicago, put that product on a national stage every March, and watch the monster awake.
Seth Davis is all over Twitter today talking about Illinois being a top-10 job. He even committed the awesomely unforgivable sin of claiming that Illinois is a better job than Duke. I love every ounce of that conversation. I love every angry Twitter response he’s receiving. Illinois Basketball has more un-tapped potential than any other program in the country, and for the next few weeks, that conversation will be front and center. Welcome back.
Now go get Smart.