Monday, February 20, 2012

Epic Post about the State of Illinois Athletics

Since some dill-hole Admin (Peoriaman, nova, Jms whoever) deleted this on the board in which it was posted.... A guy named Larry Sanders posted this on insideillini, and I have to say, I agree completely with everything he said. I would highly recommend Illini fans from all boards take a read and comment below, or post it on their own board for all I care!


Observations on Bruce from a season-ticket outsider *long* 

First post, long time fan, alumni, and lurker.  Not from Champaign, so I actually have a different favorite team, and am therefore an outsider.  The Illini are my second favorite team, and I pay close attention, so although I cannot match your fanhood and dedication, I have somewhat of a different perspective than some life-long Illini fans. So, here are a few contrarian thoughts from an outsider who has been lucky enough to have season tickets the last few seasons

(1) Illinois (left to it's own devices) is a national basketball power and Bruce Weber is (most naturally) a mid major coach. Whether or not fans agree with this sentiment, the national basketball fan base agrees largely with this sentiment.  Why?  Pretty simple: the last time the nation was passionately paying attention to Illinois was the '05 championship run.  The Illini were awesome and dominant back then, the nation watched them almost win a championship game.  The nation then saw Illinois hire the SIU guy, and the nation hasn't been interested in Illinois basketball ever since.  Nationally, Illinois basketball is still considered a high-flying, electric, guard-and-wing-oriented basketball powerhouse.  Nationally, Illinois basketball is still Kendall Gill and Deron, and this national brand of Illinois basketball has nothing to do with what most day-to-day Illini fans deal with from their basketball program.  Bruce can certainly "hack it" at the high major level, but most naturally, Bruce probably provides his greatest marginal utility as a mid major coach, building community cohesion and cinderella stories, instead of managing the Jereme Richmonds and Jabari Parkers of the world (these two players aren't as different as their images would have you think).

(2) Bruce is respected by almost everyone but feared by very few major powers.  Bruce is very, very, very well liked by almost all non-players involved in the program, and also by most players.  Bruce's stature in the coaching community is very strong, and in general, from what I can tell, Bruce is such a great guy in the community and otherwise, that he seems to have made himself almost unfireable.  If the Illini end up keeping Coach Weber simply because he is a great guy, runs a clean program, and is a pillar of the community: so be it.  That's not the worst decision a University can make, and indeed, there is a sort of romanticism and loyalty in sticking by Bruce.  Not every school and community can be feared like Kentucky: and oftentimes, the price is not worth it.  But let's be real: very few basketball powers fear Coach Weber or the Illini squads he has assembled.  If you want to change that, a new head coach is almost certainly necessary.

(3) The players are in the bars far too often.   This is true for most any school, but as an outsider who has seen some other high major basketball programs, I honestly believe that Champaign is basically known for "college friendly" bars. We all know the basics: Champaign allows kids under 21-but-over-19 to get into the bars.  This "under-21" aspect of Champaign bars is a big sell for the town, commercially, it is a big reason young people like to come to Champaign, and its a big reason why we have so many bars/restaurants.

So where are the basketball players every night?  Anyone who goes out sees the players at the bars.  Their conduct in the bars is what would be expected of college age students.  It's not hard for some people to see the behavior in the bars, and then see the body language on the court, and wonder: are the two connected?   Unfortunately, this night life is a well established tradition among Illinois best athletes.  I even wrote an email to AD Geunther before he left, and I'll write to Thomas similarly, about the players being in the bars on any given night.  RG said he would look into it, but from what I could tell, nothing changed: the players were still out drinking all the time, same bars, same everything.  It's hard to blame RG, or the bars, as no one can police the players full time, especially not in a town with under-21 bars.  It's really a town decision.  If the town wants the team that represents the University to look more aware, more plugged-in, and have better body language: it's easy, the town simply needs to stop prioritizing the access of underage kids to campus bars.

I know-I know, kids will be kids, they will drink in their dorms, we cannot police their lives, etc.  But Champaign's commercial love affair with under-21 bars is weighing down the basketball program (this is obvious to an outsider). Champaign cannot have it both ways: cannot use under-21 bars as a way to attract kids to campus, and then be outraged when your most talented youngsters look lost, confused, distracted, unfocused, and hazy on the court: as if they came here to party.  I've definitely seen other high-major, powerhouse basketball programs handle the alcohol situation more intelligently.  Reap = sow.

(4) Bruce favors less talented players who do what they are told.  Bruce plays "mid major" type players who do what they are told over more talented, NBA-type players.  Bruce played Jeffrey Jordan over Bertrand, Legion, and others.  Bruce played Maniscalco over Head and Bertrand (only injury forced Bruce to play the great Joe Bertrand, who was otherwise buried for years).  Bruce played Bill Cole over Jereme, Head, Bertrand, etc.   Bruce played the god-awful, national-laughing stock "big man" Mike Tisdale over Meyers and Jereme.  Only the most blind Bruce fan would defend these moves, all of which were grounds for national ridicule.  Mike Tisdale, for example, is synonymous, nationally, with Illinois mockery.  From New York to California, nobody fears the mid major type players (Frazier, Jordan, Maniscalco, Cole, Tisdale, etc) that Bruce relies on, instead, national fans are shocked and amused at how laughably untalented some of Illinois' key players have been.

But Bruce didn't just play Bill Cole, instead, Bruce shoved Cole down the team's throat by pretending that the team wanted Cole as a captain.  Bruce doesn't merely err on the side of experience and controlled-play: instead, he suffocates the individualism of his best players, by punishing players who rely on their talents, and rewarding mid major talents who do what they are told.

Jeffrey Jordan is a perfect example of the type of player Bruce illogically relies on: a small, terrible shooter, with a mediocre handle and decent defensive chops, who does exactly what the coach says.  Bruce often convinces himself that small players with terrible shots, who nonetheless do exactly what their coach tells them to do, must automatically be point guards.

(5) Bruce is poor at coaching and evaluating point guards, but his whole system depends on the point guard
The over-reliance on Chester was inexcusable and brutal.  Playing Jeffrey Jordan was pathetic: playing him as much as Bruce did was intolerable.  Sitting Dmitri was an awful decision, and in general, Bruce's handling of McCamey was a disaster.  Failing to teach any of our talented combo guards (Head, Bertrand, Paul, Richardson) how to be a 4-assist-per-night, competent point guard was a huge failure. Maniscalco was a waste of a scholarship, and so is next year's recruit, PG Michael Orris.    Chester, Jordan, Maniscalco, and Orris all have one thing in common: they would all fit in very well at SIU.  These four "point guards"  are not really point guards. None of them pass well or can run an offense.  None of them put up big assist numbers, none of them are lethal or even dangerous on the break.  Instead, the fake "point guards" are simply mid-major talents who will do what Bruce tells them to do with the ball.

Maybe at the mid major level, that's all you have to do: get a "coach-on-the-floor" type to run a cerebral offense, creating some good shots.  But as a national basketball powerhouse, Illinois cannot continue to run a point-guard reliant motion offense with these mid-major "floor generals" pretending to be point guards.  Dmitri was a perfect litmus test for Bruce: Dmitri is a perfect example of the type of modern, high D-I point guard that Bruce is going to have to coach up in order for his system to work.  Instead, Bruce chose to consider Dmitri as more of a combo guard, just as Bruce considers all of his guards (minus Abrams) to be.  In reality, modern american high school guards are almost all combo guards, and the very few super elite pure point guards, like PG Ennis in 2015, are not coming to Illinois right now.  Bruce will probably consider James a combo guard by the time James gets here.  Bruce is the anti-D'Antoni: Bruce shows very little ability to turn near-point guards into dynamic point guards.  

And yet, many Illinois fans enthusiastically remember some of Bruce's worst point guards, like Chester Frazier, a good players and great leaders!   Many Illini fans lament Frazier's injury, confusedly thinking that the Illni would have achieved a deep run with a healthy Frazier.  This is "homer" nonsense.  Illinois was dead in the water playing Chester Frazier.  The national basketball fan base knew Chester Frazier was a lousy player, and regardless of what a great guy he was, or how much "grit" he had or whatever: the national fan base was correct.  Frazier was not good enough to lead a national powerhouse, because he couldn't shoot or pass.  Frazier is a heck of a lot better than I've ever dreamed of being, but the standard for a national powerhouse is extremely high, and Chester came up far short (regularly).  Bruce is too "mid major" for Illinois, in that Bruce can create a bunch of feel good stories about high-character, gritty leaders, and Bruce can overachieve with an untalented team by focusing on execution and determination: but Bruce is almost comically unfit for coaching high D-I, NBA type talent.

Similarly Tracy Abrams is not good (yet). I think Abrams will be a good college guard as a junior and senior, but he is brutal as a freshman: the stage is just too big, the competition too good.  And even more obviously, Tracy Abrams is not a pure point: he is simply small and does what Bruce tells him, so we pretend Tracy is a point guard.  In reality, Tracy is a score-first combo guard, just like DJ, BP, Bertrand, Head, Dmitri, James and most every other talented guard in america.  

Currently, Tracy is (currently) an awful shooter, and he makes mistakes on both ends of the floor regularly.  His most costly mistakes are his frequent turnovers during transition offense: very costly, high-leverage mistakes. His size is an extreme disadvantage, despite his ability to battle down low.  Abrams size is preventing him from winning battles on the perimeter.   More importantly, Abrams is not (yet) a point guard: he plays more than 20 minutes, but he averages only 2 assists per game and doesn't really run the offense.  Looking beyond assists, Tracy does very few things that point guards do, because he cannot penetrate or get the defense to take him all that seriously.  It's not a coincidence that Tracy scores best in our losses, teams are winning by letting Tracy carry our offense.  Currently, his floor awareness and vision are poor.  Tracy is a very poor distributor in transition, and struggles with turnovers.  His penetration skills are, at present, non-existent, because he is not strong enough to hold on to the ball in the lane, and he doesn't yet have an effective jump stop. There isn't a single polished or well-developed aspect to Tracy's game, except his obedience to Bruce.   Nevertheless, Bruce keeps force-feeding Tracy huge amounts of minutes, and Tracy keeps getting blown out of the water on the court.  Tracy is single-handedly putting his team behind the eight ball: just watch him on defense, where he gets abused regularly.  Yet Bruce still punishes the team by playing Tracy, just so Bruce can win his peeing-contest with Meyers and the other NBA-type talented players about "how the game is supposed to be played."  God forbid Bruce would simply play our four best players and a power forward:  Meyers, Bertrand, BP, DJ, and either Griffey/Shaw/Egwu/Henry as the power forward.  We'd get more assisted baskets and points out of that lineup, than any lineup where the incredibly inefficient Tracy Abrams is on the ball.

I understand why fans and Bruce like Tracy: he is a young, hard working, heads-up, leader, with legit high major upside.  He plays the right way.  He is not a gunner, nor is he selfish in other ways.  Plus, his coach is bashing everyone on the team other than Tracy, and that makes it much easier for an embattled fan base to love Tracy, especially coming off of his career game against Purdue.   Tracy shows a ton of heart: going up strong for offensive rebounds, getting on the floor for loose balls, never any quit.  He is impressive inside for a guard.  It is easy to see that, someday, Tracy will be able to shoot, and he might develop some floor general savvy.  But right now, he can't shoot, can't pass, and despite his "grit" and his determination, Tracy is not even as good on defense as the mercurial DJ.  Tracy is a legit top-100 talent, a high major basketball player, and a class act.  But national basketball powers like Illinois do not trust their seasons to "point guards" who average two assists per game.  Kentucky, Ohio State, Michigan State, Syracuse, North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Connecticut, Georgetown, etc: none of these teams would be starting Tracy Abrams, and most of these teams would not even play a freshman Abrams in their rotation.  Illinois doesn't lack elite talent (Meyers, Bertrand, Paul), but instead, Illinois is regularly weighed down by Bruce's lineup decisions.  

(6) Bruce hurt Jereme's development, and it matters

.Now please, before you pile on Jereme, hear me out.  Yes, Jereme made three very big mistakes: (1) got into legal trouble; (2) punched BP; and (3) skipped NBA workouts.  All three were big mistakes, but let's not overblow the legal situation, since Jereme is simply on probation on a gun registration issue, and all other charges were dropped.

The BP fight and the NBA flameout were clearly related to Bruce, although they were both still Jereme's fault.  With MickyD All Americans like Jereme Richmond, any failure is necessarily the fault of both the player and the coach.  Illinois cannot afford to fail to develop a star like Jereme Richmond: AAU coaches notice, high school coaches notice, players notice, World Wide Wes notices, everyone notices.   Bruce hurt Jereme's college career by playing Bill Freakin Cole over an All-American, even when Jereme was behaving and buying in early in the season.  Such a ridiculous move by Bruce cost Illinois a huge amount of respect nationally, and put a huge number of people in Jereme's ear, saying negative things about Bruce and about an Illinois team that obviously was not going to be elite without Jereme.

Illinois is not Kentucky (yet, or right now): Illinois cannot afford to sit All-Americans.  The All Americans will tolerate sitting behind Terrence Jones, but not behind Bill Cole.  Jereme has a huge number of friends on the AAU circles and the MickyD circles: none of them could be pleased to see Jereme sit behind "Captain" Cole. Bruce killed the pro-player image that Jerrence has worked so hard to create.  Bruce's handling of Jereme was unprecedented really.   No player as good as Jereme was sitting at any other school in the country, unless that school was super-elite above Illinois (Kentucky, Cuse, etc) or unless the player did something terrible (double secret probation, etc),  In Jereme's case, he hadn't done anything wrong, there was no serious talent ahead of him, and his team was not good enough to accomplish anything impressive with Jereme on the bench.  Therefore, it was obvious, for the good of the team, Jereme needed to play.   We desperately needed his rebounding last season, and Jereme knew this, and so did the team.  We also needed Meyers to play more last season (but that is another story). But Bruce made a huge fuss about playing Bill Cole and pretending that Bill Cole had earned being a captian.  Bruce made the team go through the whole mid-season captain vote charade, which was essentially an anti-Jereme move.  At times, it seemed that Bruce would play the team manager over Jereme just to "prove a point."

McCamey and BP got dragged into this Bruce-Jereme mess, because they are leaders who wanted to win.  At first, being good team players, McCamey and BP sided with Bruce against Jereme.  BP and McCamey figured that they better stick by their coach, as good leaders are supposed to.  But this simply created a huge rift in the lockerroom, because Bruce was wrong, but BP and McCamey had Bruce's back against Jereme's complaints.  When Bruce started benching McCamey, and McCamey still wouldn't back Jereme's complaints about Bruce's style, Jereme got even more upset.  Jereme and Dmitri got in each other's face in the lockerroom, BP interceded, Jereme threw a punch, and that was that.  Jereme hadn't done anything wrong up to that point: but after months of having Bruce diminish Jereme's career and his professional dreams: Jereme snapped like an immature kid.  It's Jereme's fault for being immature, but locker room scuffles happen all of the time.  Jereme shouldn't have skipped his workouts, and his off-the-court issue appears alarming: but by and large, Jereme's record isn't anything worse than many other 20-year-olds, including some kids we are currently recruiting.  Illinois fans cannot have it both ways: you cannot pretend Jereme was a monster, destined to failure, simply because the team turned against him and he got a gun charge, but then pretend Frank Williams and all the others were saints during their playing days.  Jereme was not destined to failure here, and he hadn't done anything off the court to warrant his lack of playing time on the court.  A house divided falls, and as much as many fans would like to pretend Jereme was not an important part of our program: he was, big time, nationally.  So is Meyers.  If these talents hate Bruce, not even Jerrence can deliver the talent.   If Jereme were still on this team, playing power forward and leading the team in rebounds; getting out on transition; guarding the combo forwards that have dominated Illinois, and pushing BP/Bertrand/DJ into a more crowded guard rotation: Illinois would be at top 10 team, with two projected first round picks (Meyers and Jereme).  Instead, Illinois is looking up to Northwestern, and Bruce is saying that he wished he had Robbie Hummel.

(7) Bruce's habit of speaking honestly about his players caught up with him.
Regardless of how you interpret Dee's tweets, Bruce has a history of speaking with honest constructive criticism about his former players.  I actually don't blame Bruce for this at all, even with Jereme, Bruce is simply offering his honest opinion.  Bruce is so refreshingly honest.  The only reason I know how much I disagree with Bruce, is because he is so frank and honest.  But Bruce, regrettably, has a mid major mentality about how the game should be played, so his comments aren't always popular with NBA types talents.  Bruce's comments about his players have cost Bruce an important fan or two.   Unfortunately, I think Bruce ends up critiquing some of his most talented players because of they might not work as hard, or might not demonstrate the same focus and discipline, as some of Bruce's mid major kids do.  I don't blame Bruce for being honest , and I am sure his observations have a basis in truth, but a college basketball coach at an elite national program cannot constantly bash the work ethic of his NBA talent.   Such a coach cannot continue to bring in elite talent.

(8) Bruce's motion offense is the anti-thesis of intelligent coaching. To be fair, let me first admit that Bruce is an outstanding defensive coach.  Bruce's defense is usually excellent, and is always at least sound.  But I've never seen a high major basketball coach run such a predictable, crippling, coaching scheme as Bruce's "Motion" offense.  Bruce's Motion offense takes forever to execute, and comically, suffers from an extreme lack of deliberate and timely movement.  Meyers is so slow to set up on offense, that the Illini Motion offense lacks interior movement for about the first 10 seconds of the shot clock.  Bruce's refusal to play a power forward also limits our ability to create effective interior movement within the motion offense.  Instead, the Illini offense is usually dead-in-the-water, passes around the perimeter, until Meyers is set up and receives a touch.  Meyers is such a potent player with the ball, and he reads defenses so calmly, that Meyers (and Bertrand) almost always gains an advantage on the defense simply by touching the ball.  But Bruce doesn't run the offense through Meyers, instead Bruce relies way, way, way too much on his "point guard" Abrams.

Usually this first 10 seconds is spent pounding the rock at the top of the key, with a couple of passes to the 45-degree spot on the wing.  Changing the point guard doesn't matter, whether its Frazier, Dmitri, Sammy, or Tracy, pounding the rock for 10 seconds at the top of the key is a constant.   It is extremely rare for any Illinois player to take advantage of any opportunity within the first 15 seconds on the shot clock.

I really hate watching Illinois-v-Purdue, because Matt Painter can predict Bruce's offense better than the Illinois point guards.  Purdue simply teaches its wing defenders to anticipate the lazy Illinois passes in the predictable motion offense.  Purdue knows that when Illinois wings come to get the ball from the top of the key, Illinois wings are supposed to only extend out to the 45-degree point on the wing.  So Painter's guards are always jumping passes to the 45-degree spot on the wing: and they end up getting 4-8 steals and fast breaks every game, just by sitting on these lazy wing passes.  Similarly, whenever Illinois gets into an important game, the opposing coach is able to pick apart our predictable offensive scheme with confidence and precision.  Is there a more predictable high major offense in the country?  I do not believe so.  Of all the high major teams, only Illinois constantly pounds the rock up top for 10 seconds and then makes telegraphed passes to the 45-degree spot on the wing: that's why the team almost never gets to the line.  This is systemic, it's the coach: year after year Illinois fails to get to the line.  The ineffective offense has nothing to do with toughness or passion or grit or anything.

(9) Bruce has had a lot of help from Self and Jerrence
I don't think anyone nationally doubts that the 2005 Illinois team was one of the great teams of all time.  That team was simply too fun for the national audience to hate on.  If anything, I bet the national audience is willing to overrate the Dee-Deron team, because the "Flying Illini" is a fun, easy, brand name to get into.  The 2005 Illini team is one of the most marketable, most loved, brand name college basketball teams.  It is identifiable: the 2005 squad had star power and it was unique.  Bruce deserves and receives a great deal of credit for this accomplishment, but very few great coaches would have failed to capitalize on that success.  The market has spoken: the basketball world just doesn't believe in Bruce enough to reward him for the 2005 success with similar talent.

Not only did Bruce have the benefit of "Self's players," but he also got a ton of help recruiting from Jerrence.  Bruce deserves credit for the outstanding assistant coaches that Bruce has retained.  Still, it is worth mentioning that, without Self or Jerrence, Bruce has a very shaky, if not downright awful, recruiting record.

Many Illini fans might be thinking, "well we should give Bruce a chance to see if he can land Hamilton and/or Parker," but the reality is that Jerrence is more relevant to these recruiting battles than Bruce is.  For reasons discussed above, Bruce may be hurting Illinois's chance of landing elite talent, perhaps even Hamilton/Parker.  It's hard to imagine that even our commits, like Hill or James, sit around watching the Motion offense struggle to score 40 points, and say to themselves, "yea, that's why I want to play for the Flying Illini, it's Coach Weber or bust for me."

(10) Bruce doubles down on his mistakes
From Bruce's post-Purdue discussions, it's obvious that he still doesn't understand why he is losing.  Bruce says he works too hard, cares too much, is too honest, and hasn't sat his talented players enough.  Although Bruce is too honest for his own good at times, these "admissions" are not really constructive self-critiques, but instead, this is simply Bruce doubling down on his own mistakes.  Bruce needs to play the talented NBA types who have committed to the University of Illinois, instead of forcing square pegs into the round holes of his terrible motion offense.  But instead, Bruce obviously feels that he should have even more peeing-contests with his talented players, so that by sitting, Brandon Paul and Meyers Leonhard learn how brilliant the motion offense is.   Bruce has butchered this season by overly relying on the woefully ineffective Tracy Abrams, and by refusing to play a power forward.  If Bruce learned from his mistakes, he would say, "We need to get Meyers more touches and shots, we need Joe to run more of the offense, we need our shooters to make shots, and we've got to find a power forward today."   Instead, Bruce praises Tracy (which is simply an indirect way for Bruce to praise Bruce), and then blames his combo guard Brandon Paul for not being "touch enough" when forced to play power forward. Hey Bruce, BP is not a power forward, neither is Bertrand.  Both BP and Bertrand are more natural point guards than they are power forwards, and both would be better at the point than Abrams.  Defenses respond to Bertrand and BP, but they do not respond or rotate to anything Abrams does, because Abrams is not a threat.

Bruce is correct that he has been playing the Bill Coles of the world because he has been "coaching not to lose."  The elite coaches play their young talent, take a few regular season losses, and then reap the rewards during March: when the talented youths prove their worth.  In contrast, Bruce benches Jereme all season long, leading Jereme to scuffle with BP, and then Jereme gets held out against Kansas: all so Bruce can prove a point with Captian Cole.  Jereme is just one important example of how Bruce does not naturally interact well with high D-I talent and doubles down on his mistakes.

(11)  The Illini fan base has tough decisions
First, let me apologize: no one should tolerate a comparison to Notre Dame. The Illini fan base is awesome, and I only make this comparison because I respect Illinois a great deal.   Sometimes fan bases hold their programs back, in some weird ways, because the fan base has an obscure definition of success.  For example, Indiana firing Bob Knight because they misunderstood how the nation looked at Indiana (as nothing) and Bobby Knight (as a legend).  Similarly, Michigan ran out Lloyd Carr simply because they were embarrassed about a losing streak to OSU that most of the country didn't even know about.  Big Ten fans couldn't imagine that the nation wasn't aware of Carr's losing streak, but for the most part, national fans and especially recruits were not aware.  Classically and hilariously, Notre Dame has almost no ability to sanely analyze any of their coaches, because the Notre Dame fanbase is obsessed with details, streaks, records, and local embarrassments that the national audience does not even notice.   I feel that the Illinois fan base, while being outstanding in most regards, does have a somewhat obscure definition of success, and that this creates challenges for the program.

Is Illinois an academic powerhouse like Northwestern?  A two-sport powerhouse like Ohio State and Michigan?  A basketball school like Indiana?  Or is Illinois something else: a unique combination?  It's kind of hard to say, both for the fan base, and for the administration.  One thing we can all feel confident and proud of, is that it appears that Illinois is a relatively clean program.  When competing against OSU, Michigan, etc., it is important to remember that, if we demand a clean program, we are starting off behind the eight ball in a very serious way.  So what is Illinois, what defines our success?   Are we more likely to produce the next Red Grange, or the next Deron Williams?  How do we reward our leaders for simply avoiding the embarrassment that Penn State and Ohio State regularly deal with?  These are all hard questions for a fan base or administration to answer, and Illinois's lack of a clear identity can invite instability.  Many schools have a much clearer definitions of success.  Illinois is in the tough position of trying to be the best, clean, two way sports program in an academic conference.  This is a lofty, yet achievable goal, requiring the fan base to simultaneously aim high and be patient: which is a riddle of contradictions.    

Would an illegal recruiting contribution have brought Anthony Davis, and national dominance, to Illinois?  It sure seems so.  Might Bruce actually be a better coach than Coach Calipari?  Could very well be.  Is Bruce's main failure, compared to the "elite coaches," simply his inability to win over World Wide Wes and the other Don Kings of college basketball?  Perhaps it is unfair to demand elite performance out of Bruce Weber's program (and I am not being sarcastic).  A clean program is very "mid major," after all.  Is it really a criticism to say that Bruce might simply be too "mid major" for Illinois?  I suppose it depends on how the fan base defines success.  The Illinois fan base has some questions to answer as far as how this sports program ought to achieve success.  It is illogical to anticipate that Ohio State, Nebraska, and Michigan will play fair, so how does Illinois accomplish its goals?  I am obviously not advocating that Illinois cheat to level the playing field, I am suggesting that we ought to have diminished expectations for football, and that Illinois also has to stop emphasizing "character" if they want to remain a national basketball powerhouse.  Perhaps Illinois has to petition the Big 10 to reform some of it's misbehaving institutions, before Illinois has a chance to achieve our version of success (clean, high level, two way sports dominance).  Perhaps there are more systemic issues than the head coach.

I will say this: Beckman better be pretty darn good, because Illinois had a reasonable degree of success with Zook.  Zook and Weber are very similar, and my personal opinion, is that the Illini fan base is crazy for running out Zook, and is partially crazy for clinging to Weber.  While I don't think either Zook or Weber are great coaches, Zook was a great fit for the football program, which has a much lower stature nationally than the basketball program.  Please let me repeat and clarify, I don't think Zook is a good football coach, but I also don't think Illinois is a great football program: so the clean program (harder in football), the number and prominence of NFL players, the huge-but-sporadic wins, the Rose bowl, and the impressive coaching staff that Zook had put together met my criteria for success. I feel that the Illinois fan base is somewhat confused and disoriented regarding Zook and Weber, as if the pressures inherently involved with competing year-in, year-out with cheating pro-sports factories like Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan had thrown Illinois a bit off course.

IMO, Illinois fans ought to have been thrilled with the 6-0 start, which they were, and they should have tolerated the 0-6 finish, which they didn't.  Both the hot start and the cold finish were insanely easy to predict, as almost every Illinois fan could foresee a hot start during the easy schedule and a cold finish against the Big 10 cheating football factories.  All along, it was obvious that Illinois wouldn't win the national championship, and almost certainly would fail to win the Big 10, but that they had a great chance of making some national noise with the eary easy schedule.  Mission accomplished, 6-0, and Illinois was making national headlines.  People in California and New York knew that Illinois was in the National Championship picture.  This was as good as it was going to get, to expect any more was unreasonable.  To expect wins against the football factories was unreasonable, even with a relatively forgiving Big 10 schedule this year.  Who cares about how embarrassing it was to finish 0-6: the nation wasn't paying attention.  Whether it was 0-6, 1-5, 2-4, or 3-3, the nation would not care.  A 9-3 Illinois team is not all that different, nationally, than a 6-6 Illinois team: especially if they start out the same.  Zook brought Illinois some national respect and a ton of local embarrassment: the fan base should have endured the local embarrassment.  Under Zook, Illinois has been pumping out out NFL talent year-after-year. The only way Illinois can embarrass itself nationally, in football, is by failing to put together exciting streaks and by failing to produce NFL talent: Zook did both.  No one nationally cares about whether the team "looked better" against UCLA than Minnesota.  No one nationally cares about the details, the minor ups and downs, of Illinois football.

But the whole nation knew Illinois was relevant, for the national championship, last season.  That is a huge success.  Consider this (insulting) analogy:  how did Rutgers finish their season during that one season when they were in the BSC title game picture?  No Illinois fan will be able to say exactly how Rutgers finished.  If Rutgers laid down, quit on their coach, and lost to D-II Villanova by 25, you guys wouldn't have heard of it.  The national audience only remembers two things about that one special Rutgers year: (1) they were in the national title picture early on; (2) they had NFL talent, namely, Ray Rice.  Similarly, that is how the nation looks at recent Illini football teams: Zook's teams were occasionally relevant, even nationally, with NFL talent.  It doesn't matter that Illinois finished poorly when no one was watching. Hopefully Beckman is great, but it is going to be hard to beat the coaching staff Zook put together, the NFL talent he was pulling in, and the semi-regular national relevance he was creating, all while battling OSU, Michigan, Penn State and the others cheaters left-and-right.

In the exact same way, Illinois fans ought to be careful not to misjudge Weber and the goals of the basketball program.  Do we want more Bill Coles, or more Jereme Richmonds?  For my money, I'd ditch Bruce, load up on Jeremes, and live up to Illinois's natural status as a basketball powerhouse.  But reasonable minds might differ.