- Scott Powers, Reporter
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Former Illinois star and current ESPN analyst Stephen Bardo believes Illini coach Bruce Weber is in a tough situation, and while he's not advocating for a coaching change, Bardo has a suggestion for his alma mater if Weber is replaced.
"If you're a top-15 program, why don't you get someone who has had success at the BCS level, coached at the BCS level?" Bardo said. "That always has baffled me that Illinois hasn't done that. If you're trying to be a top-15 program, then go get a top-15 coach. Go get someone who is proven at that level.
"Michigan got John Beilein from West Virginia. Indiana got Tom Crean from Marquette. They have the blueprint. I'm not saying that Bruce Weber (who was hired from SIU) doesn't. He can obviously coach. I'm not saying he was the wrong hire. I'm saying if they make a change, depart from the direction they've gone from the past. If you view yourself as an elite program, act as much."
Bardo, who was part of Illinois' 1989 Final Four squad, said big-name candidates will be interested.
"I can tell you around the country in college basketball, Illinois is viewed as a top-15 program," Bardo said. "If the job comes open, you'll be surprised in the names interested in the job. One, it's Illinois. It's in the Big Ten. We have Chicago in the state.
"In 1989 and 2005, the best players were from the state of Illinois those two years. One team got to the Final Four. One team went to the national championship game. I think that sums it up."
As far as Weber's situation, Bardo sees the warning signs.
"I think Bruce is on a hot seat," Bardo said. "I think every game he's being evaluated with a fine-tooth comb. People have been disappointed with the direction of the program. His Big Ten record [49-51] speaks for itself since Dee Brown left. His recruiting classes have been ranked high, but those rankings are subjective.
"Unfortunately, it's come to this stretch in Big Ten play. It's a tough situation for Bruce."
Not all of Bardo's criticism was reserved for the coach. Bardo watched the Illini lose to Michigan on Sunday, marking their third consecutive defeat and sixth in the last seven games.
"I think this is a very rough stretch for them," he said. "They have four out of five games on the road. The worst-case scenario is they could drop four out of five. They're not a very confident bunch. I was pleased with their effort [against Michigan]. They just didn't make shots. When you're in an unforgiving stretch like this in the Big Ten and you're not playing with confidence, there's no way you win on the road.
"When you lack leadership, it's tough to pull through in tough situations. They're nice guys. They get along. But there's not someone to take the reins, get in someone's face and tell everyone we're going to be all right."