CHAMPAIGN, IL – Days after the Fighting Illini wrapped up another disappointing season on the men’s hoops spectrum, the school made the decision to go in a new direction with the program and fire Head Coach John Groce. The Fighting Illini finished the 2016-2017 season on a sour note, being eliminated from the Big-10 tournament on Thursday in a 20-point blowout loss at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines.
Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman released the following statement on Groce this afternoon,
“I want to thank John Groce and his staff for their tireless efforts over these past five years,” Whitman said in the announcement. “In many ways, John is a model leader. He exudes optimism and tackles every day with unbelievable energy. He has the highest integrity. He has been an active presence in our community and a strong public ambassador for Illinois basketball. Most importantly, he loves his players unconditionally and helps them develop into young men prepared for the next stages of their lives. Our student-athletes are having a positive experience, achieving record heights in the classroom, and leaving campus as proud graduates with bright futures.
“Under his leadership, regrettably, we were not able to sustain the level of competitive excellence that we expect at the University of Illinois. But that should do nothing to detract from the many wonderful things John has done on behalf of Illinois basketball during his tenure. We wish John, Allison and their three children nothing but the best, and we thank his staff and their families as well for their many contributions to our program. All will be missed.”
Groce, who replaced former Head Coach Bruce Weber before the start of the 2012-2013 season, led the Fighting Illini to a 23 win season in his first year, and then a 20 win season the following year. Since then Groce and the Fighting Illini haven’t seen the 20-win mark again in the last three seasons. The program went a total of 95-74 over the course of Groce’s five seasons in Champaign, but an 18-14 season, that included an 8-10 record in conference play, was not good enough for the school.
The Fighting Illini have named Jamal Walker as the Interim Head Coach for the time being, as the team is in line for a likely NIT bid this month, but the search for the new head of the Illinois men’s basketball program is already underway for Athletic Director Josh Whitman.
Some early candidates for the job have already been floated around, with a report from Yahoo! Sports indicating that the Illini would be willing to pay former New Orleans Pelicans Head Coach Monty Williams very well if he was to assume the role for the 2017-2018 season. Cuonzo Martin, currently the head coach of the Cal Golden Bears, has also been mentioned as a target high on the Illinois short list of potential new head coaches.