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Illini still need to clean house

March 27, 2012|By Matt Lindner | For RedEye

What do Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens, Leonard Hamilton, Anthony Grant and Lorenzo Romar have in common?

All of them coach at schools with nowhere near the kind of proud basketball history the University of Illinois has. All of them also are hot prospects who reportedly opted to stay far away from the debacle the Illini program has become.

This left beleaguered Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas stumbling around like a drunk in a bar at 3 a.m. hoping somebody, anybody, would take his millions and coach his team.

In the end, it appears Ohio University's John Groce will answer the call. And while Groce is by all accounts a fine coach, the way he will have arrived in Champaign should cost Thomas his job.

Groce has an impressive recent track record. His Bobcats came within an inch of knocking off North Carolina and becoming the first No. 13 seed to reach the Elite Eight. But the fact remains he is the winner of a job nobody wanted. That alone says enough about how far the basketball program at our state's flagship university has fallen.

Thomas went all in on Smart, a coach who—like the guy Thomas just fired—isn't known for being a strong recruiter of Chicago talent. If Illinois basketball is ever going to be what it once was, the next coach can't afford to ignore the bonanza of potential playmakers in the state's biggest city. When Smart (smartly, I might add) decided to stick with VCU, it became clear to just about everyone that there was no Plan B and that straws would need to be grasped at to save face.

Given that Thomas is paying more than $7 million to ex-coaches at a time when the state is facing major budget problems, there's no excuse for things turning out the way they did. Big-time programs like Illinois shouldn't handle their business like this.

The university needs to hand Thomas a towel, let him wipe the egg off his face and send him packing as soon as humanly possible.

Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.

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