Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther finally got his man to replace Bill Self: Southern Illinois coach Bruce Weber. Guenther has been on a one-man hunt after Self opted to go to Kansas.
The focus for Illinois was Tom Crean. There was so much talk of a domino effect, with Roy Williams going to North Carolina, Self to Kansas and then Crean to the Illini. Well, it didn't totally turn out that way. Crean stayed at Marquette, signing a mega-deal. The Golden Eagles are in love with him, and he's done a super job there.
Then Creighton's Dana Altman was supposed to go to Illinois, but that didn't happen. Altman has led the Bluejays to the NCAA Tournament five consecutive years, and it appeared he was heading to the Big Ten, where he would receive a great deal of visibility and exposure.
Many felt that Weber wouldn't go to Illinois since he had such strong ties at Purdue.
According to insiders, the deal fell through over the coaching staff. Altman wanted to bring all of his own guys, while AD Guenther decided that Wayne McClain would be kept on the Illinois staff. McClain is so popular in the state of Illinois as the former coach at Peoria Manual High School, which won several state championships.
Northern Illinois coach Rob Judson, a former Illinois assistant who bleeds Illini blue, was considered a candidate -- but it wasn't meant to be.
Many felt that Weber wouldn't go to Illinois since he had such strong ties at Purdue. Would he be a future candidate to replace Gene Keady there? He spent 18 years in West Lafayette, so he would make sense as a replacement for his mentor.
As it turned out, Weber decided the opportunity to coach in the Big Ten at Illinois was too strong. He did a fantastic job during his four-year tenure at Southern Illinois, and now he will lead the Illini in his own quiet manner. Weber took the Salukis to the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons.
He has tremendous X-and-O ability, a strong knowledge of the game and a tremendous work ethic. I was impressed watching him teach during practice as an assistant at Purdue.
Now the Illini have the man of their choice. Can he take them even further than Self did? Can this program make it to the Final Four for the first time since 1989?
The returning nucleus is solid, with eight of the top 10 players back. Brian Cook is gone, but the effervescent Dee Brown is back in the backcourt. Illinois had a freshmen guard tandem this past season (Brown and Deron Williams), and the year of experience will help.
The Big Ten should be tough, with Illinois and Michigan State battling for the top spot next season (with a sleeper lurking in Michigan -- coach Tommy Amaker and the Wolverines will be competitive).
Congratulations to Weber for his new job in the Big Ten. Guenther can relax until next season, when the evaluations come and the scrutiny will be deep and keen.