Illinois targeting Ohio's John Groce

Updated: March 28, 2012, 9:43 AM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Ohio coach John Groce continues to be the top focus for the Illinois search, but a deal has not been struck.

A number of sources close to Groce said the two sides are negotiating. Groce spent Tuesday morning calling close confidants about the Illinois job and was prepared to accept if offered. But according to an Illinois spokesperson, athletic director Mike Thomas has reiterated the process is not over and there is no set timeline on hiring a coach.

The spokesperson said Illinois will not rush into the decision, despite pressure to get a deal done after public rejections from VCU's Shaka Smart and Butler's Brad Stevens.

The Illini are seeking to replace the fired Bruce Weber, who led the Illini to the 2005 national title game before a substandard finish this season led to his dismissal.

Groce, a former Ohio State assistant coach, led the Bobcats to the Sweet 16 and his second NCAA tournament in three seasons. Groce's Bobcats knocked off Georgetown in his first NCAA appearance in 2010.

Ohio went 29-8 and 11-5 in the MAC this season and finished third in the MAC East. The Bobcats have gone 85-56, including 34-30 in the MAC, in Groce's four years.

While at Ohio State, Groce developed a reputation as an elite recruiter, helping sway Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. to Ohio State.

Illinois is prepared to announce a news conference in a moment's notice as soon as Thomas says a deal is done.

Illinois was told to prepare for a news conference either Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday before Thomas goes to the Final Four on Friday. But earlier Tuesday, that was put on hold as no deal had been struck.

If hired, Groce or Illinois would have to pay Ohio $200,000 for terminating Groce's contract early. Groce signed a contract extension in April 2010 that took him through the 2014-2015 season.

Groce made a base salary of $250,000 during the 2011-2012 season. He also was given $25,000 for radio and television appearances and $25,000 for public appearances. He earned bonuses of $5,000 for a conference winning record, $10,000 for winning the MAC tournament championship, $20,000 for winning two NCAA tournament games and $20,000 for being one of the final 16 teams remaining in the NCAA tournament.

Illinois owes Weber $3.9 million after firing him with three years remaining on his contract.

ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers contributed to this report.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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