The search for the next Illinois basketball coach has entered stealth mode, which of course hasn’t kept leaks from internet hoops gurus and third-party sourced tweets from ramping up hype and speculation. Earlier this week it was Shaka Smart. The media frenzy was so intent he issued a statement of non-interest. Meanwhile, ‘sources’ claimed a generous multi-year offer had been extended. The venerable one says, “not so fast…” and I’m with him.
Illinois AD Mike Thomas has to tread carefully, which is why he hired a search firm to vet out skeletons in the closet and act as an intermediary. He likely has a couple of top objectives for this method: 1) Satisfy the political braying of certain members of the Board of Trustees, 2) Ensure plausible deniability, which in turn allows for the protection of the eventual new coach’s ego, as well as covering Thomas.
Think about it: if/when Thomas hires a lesser-known coach and the Chicago media blasts him, he can point to these ‘leaks’ and overtures to Smart and most recently, Butler’s Brad Stephens, and say, I made an attempt for the obvious candidates – they weren’t interested. Or maybe Stephens is interested. We just don’t know yet.
This is something Illini Nation is having such a tough time with. Nobody knows except Thomas and the search firm. The message board traffic is intense, speculation rampant. In Beemsville, we’re on the edge of our seat, following each development by the hour (and sometimes by the minute).
Surely a positive for the next coach, because despite the recent spiral, the passion for Illini basketball remains intense as ever. People will rally to the team in a big way if given the smallest window. I don’t really have a favorite at this point, though I am encouraged that Mike Thomas has been encouraged by donors to “think big” and obviously isn’t afraid to open the checkbook. What I’m hoping for is a coach with the potential to be a recruiting dynamo, who teaches fundamental basketball, and has the flexibility to employ different styles and tactics.