- Scott Powers, Reporter
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Illinois coach Bruce Weber said Friday he has no intention of resigning and wants to finish his career with the Fighting Illini.
After Illinois lost its fourth straight and seventh of its past eight games on Wednesday against Purdue, Weber said he has "coached not to lose all year." After some took his postgame comments to be a concession speech, Weber issued a statement the next day trying to clarify the remarks.
Weber defended himself Friday and reacted strongly to a question about whether he has considered resigning this season.
"That's not even a question, to be honest," Weber said. "What has happened? We're 16-10. We're still in the NCAA field. We've had some tough losses. I think that's way beyond."
With a new athletic director in Mike Thomas, who fired football coach Ron Zook after last season, Weber's future appears uncertain. He coached Illinois to the national championship game in 2005, but he has also failed to reach the NCAA tournament two out of the past four years.
Weber defended his accomplishments at Illinois.
"I love Illinois," Weber said. "I said many times I want to be the coach here. I want to finish my career here. I've done a lot of good things. Some things have happened. You lose Jamar Smith. You lose Chester [Frazier] in the postseason. You lose Jereme Richmond after a year. Sammy [Maniscalco] gets hurt. It hasn't been smooth sailing. I think we still have done a lot of things that are important. We have a solid all-around program.
"Do I want to do better? No doubt. There's no doubt about it. That's my disappointment and frustration. I know I'm a good coach. I've done it for a long time. I've been part of championships. We have done things here at Illinois that no other coaches have done."
Weber might not want to resign, but his future ultimately lies with Thomas, who didn't give Weber a vote of confidence during a Champaign radio appearance earlier in the week.
Illinois is paying Zook $2.6 million to buy out his contract, and Weber's contract runs through 2015, which would force the school to pay him $3.9 million if he's fired after this season.
Weber said he could have worded his frustrations differently during his Wednesday news conference.
"I think a couple of my biggest weaknesses as a person, as a coach, is that at times I speak with a lot of honesty, and I also care too much," Weber said Friday. "I think, too, I'm very hard on myself, a lot of times harder on myself than I should be, but that's just how I am.
"Obviously, I've been disappointed I haven't been able to get the toughness out of our guys. That's the difference in a lot of close games. There's no doubt about that. I probably could have expressed that in a little different language, whatever, a little different tone of voice. That's just how it happened."
Weber discussed his comments with his players.
"They said, 'We got to be tougher,' " Weber said. "I said, 'That's exactly right.' I also said, 'Who did I mainly blame?' They said, 'You always take the blame for everything, coach.' Some of them said, 'The problem is it's us who has to take the blame and take the accountability.' "
Weber didn't regret calling out sophomore center Meyers Leonard for his lack of hustle against Purdue.
"Meyers needs to play harder," Weber said. "He knows it. He's got to have better body language. I don't think anything else was different about it. I've asked him. I told you guys for two months now he has to be focused, he has to play with a motor and keep his poise and body language in a positive manner. Otherwise, it hurts him and his team. I think he's made progress. He really is trying, to be honest.
"When something doesn't go right, that's the next step for improvement, that he can fight through those tough times. My goal for Meyers is he's got a chance to be in the NBA. I don't want him to just be in the NBA. I want him to stay in the NBA."
Weber said he is still hopeful that the Illini, who have five games remaining beginning with Nebraska on Saturday, will finish the season strong.
"The people who know me (know) I'm a fighter," Weber said. "By no means would I ever think that our season was over or I had given up on anybody. In fact, it's the other way.
"I think there's no doubt I like my team. I like what they are. I'm just disappointed we haven't been able to find a way to take the next step, and so many of the games have been close."
Despite their struggles, ESPN resident college basketball bracketologist Joe Lunardi has the Illini as a No. 12 seed and among his last four teams in his latest projections on Friday.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.