It has now been three months since Mike Thomas was fired as athletic director of the University of Illinois, and whereas a decision on his successor is imminent and could be announced any day now, the athletic teams continue to struggleas a result.
The frontrunners are still there, so to speak, alrhough it appears that Rick George is pretty much out of the running and Criag Tiley claims that he's never been formally contacted by campus officials. That leaves Josh Whitman and Tom Michael as the other candidates, and while both are former athletes that are currenly leading institutions in the midwest, their interest in the position remain high.
Whitman, who is at Division III Washington University in St. Louis, has done a great job at that small school, and would be a viable leader at the next level. Michael is currently at Eastern Illinois and if you have been reading the news lately, is in some tough financial waters due to the state's continued fiscal woes without a budget.
I've heard a lot of differing opinions over the past few weeks about these and other candidates, and nobody for sure, with the exception of the Board of Trustees, really know what is going on, and sometimes, I wonder if even they have a clue.
What I do know is, the news could break any day, and when it does, you can be sure that I will be on top of it, like usual.
Bill Cubit had his first Signing Day class announced last week, and even though there are not a lot of studs in the class, there are some positions of need that were addressed. As is common with coaching changes, Cubit has seen his fair share of players leave the program, most notably, T. J. Neal, who would have been one of the stalwarts at linebacker.
A lot of these players that left were recruited by Tim Beckman, and now that he is gone, they feel the need to move on and play somewhere that they are comfortable. Cubit has also brought in some new coaches to the staff, and one such coach, Jeff Hecklinski, is a former Illini quarterback that has some big visions upon his return.
It seems that John Groce cannot catch a break, and I use that term loosely. Groce's mens basketball team has been riddled with injuries this season, a huge part of their 11-13 overall record and 3-8 mark in Big Ten play, but it seems that the injury bug is not just affecting current players, but ones that aren't even on campus yet.
I was privileged to see recruit Te'Jon Lucas and his Milwaukee Washington team take on Champaign Centennial last Saturday night at Parkland College, and for three quarters, Lucas looked like the real deal and the point guard that Groce has had such trouble landing. However, in the fourth period, Lucas was going up for a shot when he was cheap-shotted and fell to the floor. He had to be carried off the court, and it was later revealed that he broke two bones in his foot, thus ending his senior season. Groce was present at the game, and immediately went over to assess the situation.
You can kind of feel for what Groce is going through, and his luck of players getting hurt borders on the unimaginable. When the new AD is hired, they will look at the full body of work, like they do with all coaches, and I hope that the injury issue is looked at carefully. That doesn't mean that the new hire won't want to make a change and bring in his own person, but if he does get let go, then everything goes back to square one and you risk losing recruits for not only this coming season, but for 2017 and beyone as well. Groce and company have made some inroads in the 2017 class, landing Javon Pickett out of Bellleville and working with others as well. A potential change could derail all of that if they are not careful. Who knows what will happen.
On the womens side of things, the situation is not much better, in fact, it is getting worse. Head coach Matt Bollant has seen his team lose 14 out of their last 15 games after a 7-1 start, and at 8-15 overall and 1-11 in conference play, has got to be feeling some heat as well as the new AD hire looms.
Bollant was successful at his previous stop, Wisconsin-Green Bay, and everyone expected him to come to Champaign and get the dormant program back on its feet. However, with the scandal over the summer and early fall that led to the dismissal of assistant Mike Divilbiss, they have never really recovered and are treading water as their season begins to wind down. One bright spot, center Chatrice White, continues to play well, and just imagine what she could do if she had some other players of the same caliber around her. But, it all starts with recruiting, and maybe the pundits are correct in saying that you can't build a program at Illinois. With all of the insecurity going on in the athletic program, who would want to come here?
Finally, as if the athletic program doesn't need any more bad publicity, it was revealed earlier this week that softball player Ruby Rivera was charged with damaging property on campus. It seems as if most of the athletic programs on campus have some sort of issue going on with them in some way, shape, or form, and when the new AD does in fact, get hired, he or she will have quite a chore to get things back to respectability. If that even is possible.