Illinois AD will evaluate Bruce Weber
Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas would not give Illini coach Bruce Weber a vote of confidence Saturday, saying he would assess Weber's job performance following the season.
Thomas took about an hour of phone calls Saturday morning from a mostly disgruntled Illinois basketball fanbase on WDWS-1400 AM in Champaign, Ill.
"Yes, obviously, that's something people are paying attention to right now," Thomas said, responding to a question regarding Weber's job security. "As I've always said, I will assess the situation at the end of the season no different than I do with the other 18 sports, no different than I did for the football program.
"I need to look at the total body of work and all of the things that come into play as far as making those decisions. Because those are important decisions and they affect a lot of people. I'll tell you this: No one wants to win more than I do. I'm here to win championships."
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Thomas didn't speak directly to this season's team, which is 16-8 overall but 5-6 in the Big Ten. He affirmed, however, what his expectations were for the program.
"For us, we have to compete at the highest level with our men's basketball program," Thomas said. "There's no doubt about. We have to be in the higher ranks of the Big Ten Conference. Let's face it, in the Big Ten, not just men's basketball but for anything, if you're in the upper crust, you're a top team nationally.
"That's where Illinois used to have a history of, a good part of history has been that kind of program. We need to not only get to be that kind of program -- [what] is more difficult is to sustain that."
Thomas later expanded on that.
"Is it realistic that we in any sport are going to win the Big Ten championship every year?" Thomas said. "It's probably not likely. But even in those situations, you want to be part of the discussion. You want to feel that energy and excitement is there when you get towards the end of the season.
"And then when you're looking into the NCAA postseason play, it's not a question of whether you're in the tournament, now you're sitting there saying, 'Where are we going to be seeded?' "
Thomas also explained how he will assess Weber after the season.
"You certainly look at the competitive piece," Thomas said. "You look at your recruiting. You look at trends, the trajectory. Are they on an upward trajectory? You look at other things. You look at other things that might be off the floor as they relate to compliance and academics."
Thomas acknowledged he understood Illinois fans were passionate about their basketball team. He said he has to eliminate his emotions when making a decision.
"I've got to filter that out of it," Thomas said. "I have to look at it more in an objective way. That's also part of my job description. I can't get hung up in the emotional part of this, and that's very easy to do."
Thomas also was asked whether recent votes by two members of the board of trustees against the hiring of football coach Tim Beckman would affect future coaching decisions. The two members objected to the hire because of their disappointment in the university never having hired a black head coach in men's basketball or football.
"As I've said in relation to the football hire, I'm excited about Coach Beckman and his staff being on board," Thomas said. "I look forward to them having success. I believe all of us look forward to them having success and long tenures here at the University of Illinois. It's always going to be my primary goal to hire the best coach possible for all of our programs."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.