Yesterday, I went to one of my more favored sandwich shops to grab dinner. At this particular place, they grill up the meat once you order (part of the appeal for me) so you have to wait a few minutes for your food. No big deal. I sat and watched the end of the UCLA-Memphis game (don’t get me started, let’s just say I had UCLA winning it all over UNC so I’m not having a good weekend) and some guy who was sitting by himself felt the need to strike up a conversation with me. Now, let me start by saying I really hate when people do that. It just bugs me. Anyways, he tells me that UNC will be the next to fall, which it turned out he was right, but then he starts telling me how University of Illinois Men’s head basketball coach Bruce Weber is going to leave for the newly vacated Marquette job. This guy then tells me he’s glad because Weber isn’t a good coach and Illinois will hire Coach K (nope, not even going to try to spell his last name) from Duke.
Where do I begin to tell this guy how dumb he is?
Let’s start with Coach K…
If he didn’t leave Duke to coach the L.A. Lakers (you know, the team with that Kobe guy) when they threw a ridiculous amount of money at him, then Coach K isn’t about to leave for Illinois. In fact, I don’t think he’ll leave Duke until he retires, which I respect. So that’s this guy’s dumbass moment #1.
Now for the Weber comments, and this goes for just about 90% of the “fans” in this town…
Bruce Weber is one of the best coaches in the country. Read that again. If you truly are an Illinois fan, pray to whatever higher power you believe in that Weber never, ever leaves. Bruce Weber has done more with some mediocre to flat out bad teams than most coaches ever could. I contend that in 2005 when Illinois went to the “National Title Game That Never Happened”, they got there in no small part because of Weber’s coaching. Bill Self, whom Weber took over for after he left for Kansas, would not have gotten that team that far. They would have lost more than one regular season game and they never would’ve gotten past Arizona in the Elite Eight. That’s just the truth. Now I know, you’re thinking “hey wait, Self’s Kansas Jayhawks are going to play for the title tomorrow night” but let’s just wait and see what Memphis does to them. My guess is they’ll take Kansas apart big time, but I digress.
Yes, this past season was terrible. Yes, Coach Weber deserves some of the blame because he didn’t land the recruits necessary to prevent this. I readily concede those points. However, let’s look at this last season realistically.
Strike 1 against Weber – Jamar Smith was arguably the best player Illinois would’ve had this year, however due to your standard college kid stupidness, he was suspended for the year. That, as much as certain people want to blame it on him, is not Bruce Weber’s fault. If you think losing a guy who would’ve been good for 15 to 20 points a game doesn’t hurt you, you don’t know basketball at all.
Strike 2 against Weber – Eric Gordon. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Did Kelvin Sampson do some shady dealing to get Gordon to go to Indiana? It certainly looks that way. Can anyone blame Bruce Weber for that? Not if you have a functioning brain cell in your head. The only way to counter that is to cheat more than the other guy cheating. Bruce Weber doesn’t work that way, and I commend him for it. If it means we miss out on guys like Eric Gordon, so be it.
Strike 3 – Recruiting in general. Yes, he deserves some blame here, he will tell you that. But before you cruicify Bruce Weber for missing out on the Derek Roses and Eric Gordons of the world, remember, only one school gets those guys. Rose went to Memphis, Gordon to Indiana. That means the great Coach K failed in recruiting them. Roy Williams at UNC failed. Billy Donnovan at Florida, Rick Pitino at Louisville, Bill Self at Kansas, Billy Gillespie at Kentucky and so on and so on failed. Get the point here?
This is the bottom line, you don’t get to blame a guy for one (1) losing season. By the way, look it up, since he’s been at Illinois, this was the first losing season coach Weber’s had. Great players can overcome bad coaching, great coaching can’t overcome bad players and we had some bad players. Believe me when I say that getting rid of Brian Randle, who is by all accounts a great kid, and Shaun Pruitt will help tremendously. The team will be better next year, they’ll be good in 2009, they’ll be great in 2010. Every program has down years, so back off. Either support the team, or don’t. I don’t care which. Just pick one and go with it, but DO NOT DARE talk about how great a coach is when everything’s coming up roses, and how terrible he is when things inevitably go bad.
As always with these types of things, if you think you can do better, apply for the job.