Jon Greenberg Blog: Fighting Illini

Will coaching dominoes affect Illinois?

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
3:03
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
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Jim Christian got the Boston College job Thursday, leaving bucolic Athens, Ohio for Chestnut Hill and the Atlantic Coast Conference.

I know what you're thinking, Chicago sports fan. "Who the heck is Jim Christian? And stop feeding us your Ohio University propaganda."

Trust me, there's a point here. College coaching hires have domino effects and this one could reach the University Illinois and Chicago.

Two years ago, Christian left a failing job at Texas Christian University and replaced John Groce at Ohio University, after the latter was hired at the University of Illinois.

Groce's right-hand assistant at Ohio was Dustin Ford, who then interviewed for his boss' old job. Ford, a former Ohio basketball player, didn't get the job and he left with Groce for Champaign.

It is expected that the 35-year-old Ford will be a candidate again, and after two years helping to run a Big Ten team, he should look more palatable to Ohio athletic director Jim Schaus. Ford was very popular among the players, and has strong recruiting ties in Ohio. But he'll have a lot of competition. Schaus got a slew of applications when Groce left after going to the Sweet 16 and he has a good track record of hiring coaches, going back to Mark Turgeon and Gregg Marshall at Wichita State.

It should help that Ford is Groce's first man on the bench. He is the small bald guy you occasionally see telling Groce to simmer down.

I'm biased toward Ford because I covered him in college and watched him play when he starred for Cambridge (Ohio) High School, under his father Gene Ford. His older brother Geno Ford is the head coach for Bradley University. Geno's a trip. He's probably 5-foot-8 and he scored 2,680 points in high school, the third-most in state history and 24 more than LeBron James.

Anyway, back to my point, let's say Schaus hires Ford. That means there's a plum job open at Illinois. How many applications will Groce get for that one? How many Chicago-affiliated coaches will campaign for the job? You would think Groce would add someone with Illinois or Chicago connections to bolster recruiting as he fights to keep in-state recruits.

In a recent story commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Flyin' Illini, Marcus Liberty mused about a job at his alma mater, telling Steve Greenberg (no relation) "As I watch my university, I would love to be there on that bench and to help that program get back where it used to be."

Liberty is a high school coach in Sarasota, Fla., according to the story, but I imagine he'd be a longshot. Simeon coach Robert Smith wanted the job two years ago.

But this is all idle speculation. Ford would have to be hired at his alma mater. That would be the first domino.

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