Former Illinois assistant Jerrance Howard said Monday his departure from the Illini’s staff was best for the program and himself.
Howard, a former Illinois assistant and player, spoke publicly Monday for the first time since leaving Illinois and joining Larry Brown’s staff at SMU. Howard had been an assistant under former Illinois coach Bruce Weber for five seasons and was named the Illini’s interim head coach when Weber was fired in March.
Illinois named John Groce as Weber’s full-time replacement, and Groce decided to not retain Howard on his staff. Howard was still under contract with Illinois until he resigned to join SMU’s staff.
“It was difficult,” Howard said of leaving Illinois. “I thought it was the right thing for Coach Groce to move in a different direction. I think it was the best decision for everybody. Change is hard. Sometimes with change, the best thing is to start from scratch.
“I didn’t want the players to use me as a crutch. If they didn’t like something, I didn’t want them coming to me complaining every time. I think it was best for everybody.”
Howard said it was also difficult leaving all the players he recruited at Illinois. Most of the players on the Illini roster were recruited by Howard.
“I had to do was best for the kids and the new coaching staff,” Howard said. “I texted them when it looked like I wasn’t coming back. The hardest thing to do was moving on because I had a relationship with all those players. They’re always going to be family.”
Howard was sad to leave Illinois, but also happy to join SMU. Howard said he had a few coaching offers, but he opted for SMU because he believes Brown could help him get closer to his goal.
“My dream has always been to be a head coach and coach in the NBA,” Howard said. “Coach Brown has had success wherever he’s been -- Kansas, UCLA, North Carolina and the NBA. One of the things he told me was a lot of coaches have coaching trees, and he has a forest. Who’s better to learn from? I’ve played and coached under a lot of great coaches, and this is the icing on the cake.”
Howard also believes SMU could become a formidable program with Brown coaching, the facilities they have, their recruiting base of Dallas and because the program will be joining the Big East.
“We’re going to get some players,” Howard said. “This is a baby goldmine. We have everything here to be successful.”
Howard said he continues to have a good relationship with Weber and Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas. Howard spent time with Weber while both watched high school club games over the past weekend.
“Outside of my wife, (Weber) was the happiest person for me,” Howard said. “He told me it was a good move to go to SMU.”
Howard also planned to still be in Illinois plenty and continue to recruit from the state.
“Even though I’m in Dallas and the state of Texas, I still plan on recruiting Illinois,” Howard said. “The high school and AAU teams there are some of the best in the country. There’s enough players to go around.”