Tim Beckman was hired in December to replace Ron Zook, who was fired one day after the Illini lost their final regular season game at Minnesota. More on Beckman will follow later in this blog.
Jolette Law was let go just one day after her Illini squad lost in the Big Ten Tournament, and in her place, Thomas seemed to hit a home run by hiring Matt Bollant, who was the coach at Wisconsin-Green Bay. All Bollant did was lead the Phoenix to an 85-5 Horizon League Conference mark in the last five years. Sure, this is the Big Ten and not the Horizon League, but Bollant has a history of beating Big Ten teams, and if he does anything remotely close to what he did at UW-GB, then Illini fans will at long last see the drought of going to the NCAA Tournament for the women's team come to an end.
Bruce Weber was fired just one day after the Illini were defeated by Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament (does anyone see a trend here?), finally ending the speculation of the inevitable happening. Weber seemed to be a defeated man during the last few weeks of the season, and even he sensed that this would be happening. Thomas once again went to the Mid-American Conference to nab his new coach, getting John Groce from Ohio University. Groce is an up and coming coach that, like Beckman, has a lot of energy and seems to be a good fit as the Illini team begins to rebuild. It didn't take long for Weber to find a new job, as he was hired by Kansas State to fill their vacancy after Frank Martin left for the South Carolina job. Groce will have a size issue on his hands, as sophomore Meyers Leonard declared for the NBA, and will be leaving school once the semester is over. No matter if you think that Leonard is ready for the next level or not, he has some good reasons for making the decision. He lost his dad at an early age, and his mom is not in the best of health. Plus, his older brother just returned from Afghanistan. Leonard will move to Long Island with his mother to begin training for the upcoming draft. With the exception of Michael Orris, who was granted a release of his scholarship, the other commitment in the class, Jalen James, seems like he is still coming. Everyone else should be back as well, but during a coaching change, you never know about transfers, especially now since Jerrance Howard, a favorite among the current players, will not return. Groce made that announcement on Thursday, and has his coaching staff pretty much in tact. Dustin Ford and Jamall Walker will join Isaac Chew on Groce's first staff at Illinois.
Beckman's first Illinois Spring game will be on Saturday, and judging by his enthusiasm over the past few weeks, the team is as ready as they will be. Since media are not allowed at practice but just a couple different times, we have no idea what will happen during the game. One thing that Beckman did stress was that they would not show everything in their arsenal, since the game will be televised and the Illini's first opponent, Western Michigan, will be able to decipher some of their plays otherwise. Since the Broncos are in the same conference as Beckman's old team, Toledo, they may already have an idea of some of his tendencies. The Illini conducted a draft to construct teams, with the winners getting steak, and the losers getting "beans and weenies", according to Beckman. The front runner for quarterback still will be Nathan Scheelhaase, although Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei will also see action at the position.
Believe it or not, there are other sports going on besides the ones that involve coaching changes.
The Illini baseball and softball teams have been in action for well over a month, but the results have been less than favorable. The baseball team is off to an 18-14 start, including a 3-4 conference mark. They are on the road this weekend at Purdue.
The women's softball team is not doing as well as the baseball team, currently with a 17-18 record, which includes a 2-7 Big Ten mark. The Illini will host Wisconsin this weekend at Eichelberger Field in hopes of climbing over the .500 mark.