- Scott Powers, Reporter
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CHICAGO -- Illinois interim head coach Jerrance Howard said he would like to remain a part of the program regardless of who is named the Illini’s next coach.
Howard was made the interim coach when Bruce Weber was fired Friday after nine seasons at Illinois. Howard played for Weber at Illinois and was an assistant under him for five seasons. Howard has two years remaining on his contract.
“I’ve been an Illini fan since I was 6 years old,” Howard said while recruiting in Chicago on Tuesday. “I played here. My wife’s from Chicago. I’m from Peoria. I have a personal relationship with every kid on the team. It would be really good to stay around. Hopefully, everything works out.
“My whole legacy that I wanted from Day 1 is to help this team to get back to the Final Four, and that’s always been a dream and goal of mine.”
Howard has been told by Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas he will not be a candidate for the position.
“No, there’s no possibilities, which I respect even more about Mike Thomas,” Howard said. “He just had the confidence in me and wanted to make sure this group stays together in the meantime. It could be two weeks or a month. But I’m just grateful I would have had a chance to coach in the NIT, but that came up short. It’s not about me. It’s about these kids. It’s about staying at Illinois and moving forward in a positive direction.”
Howard is hopeful he will click with the next coach, but he’s also been around long enough to know that’s not always the case. Howard believe his ties to the program, his reputation as an effective recruiter and his work ethic could be attractive qualities to next Illinois’ next coach.
“I think I’ve done a good job,” Howard said. “I think I’m well respected not only in the state and Chicago, but nationwide. [My future] is something that is kind of uncertain and something I definitely have to think about because I have a family. I really can’t say because a lot of coaches like to bring in their staff and people they’re loyal to and trust, so it’ll be interesting.”
Howard has continued working toward the future for Illinois. He attended Friday’s sectional championship between Peoria Central and Washington and was at Chicago State on Tuesday for a super-sectional game between Simeon and Evanston.
Howard made himself visible at Chicago State by sitting in the front row and spent time after the game talking with dozens of people.
“At the end of the day, I’m still representing the University of Illinois and the orange and blue,” Howard said. “People have been receiving me really well, more so than I thought. From high school teachers to AAU coaches to kids in the community, and that’s a credit to Illinois and Bruce Weber. I’m really humble and grateful for the opportunity. I’m not going to let people down. I’m just going to work my butt off.”
The past week had consisted of a wide range of emotions for Howard. The Illini suffered a disappointing loss to Iowa in the Big Ten tournament on Thursday. Weber was fired, and Howard was named the interim coach on Friday. Illinois wasn’t selected for the NIT on Sunday.
“A lot of mixed emotions,” Howard said. “It’s a process. You start off really emotional, then you’re angry and then you kind of figure, ‘Hey, I got to move on with my life and do what’s best for me and the program.’ It’s not really about me. It’s about just making sure this program stays on track and is moving in the right direction.”
Howard said he has been in constant communication with Weber, and Weber continued to give him advice.
“We talk a lot,” Howard said. “That’s my guy. He cares about the kids. People forget I played for coach, so that will always be coach to me. He’s just giving me advice. He’s just a great overall guy. I wouldn’t be where I’m at if it wasn’t for coach Weber.”