Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 3/21/12

Well, I didn’t see that one coming. Shaka Smart had an offer of $2.5 million plus, doubling his salary, and had a chance at a top 20 national job in what was the nation’s best conference this past year. And he had a chance to step up from mid-major to high-major in the Big Ten. I’ve been to Richmond, Virginia a couple times and I can tell you- this denial was shocking.

The only way the decision to stay at VCU could be interpreted as a smart one is if Smart wants to be a Ram for life (and life means a decade or so) like Brad Stevens, or he’s holding out for when the UConn and UCLA jobs; and now only one of those jobs looks to be open next year. And a high percentage of Illini nation is hard right-wing politically. They won’t like a coach spurning them to stay at Virginia Commonwealth. “Sounds like a socialist commune!” they’ll say.

Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas had a plan: option 1 was Shaka Smart, option 2-11 was Smart. Now it’s time to move on to option 12.

Well, that’s an extreme exaggeration, but Thomas really went up to the plate and took a heavy cut- WHIFF! Just like on the football hire. Thomas whiffed on Kevin Sumlin and had to settle for Tim Beckman as his college football hire. So he’s got two strikes. And for a man who likes to fire people as if he were on a Donald Trump reality show, it won’t be long before people are questioning his credentials.

The University is paying three coaches a combined $7 million not to coach, so let’s look at who could come in and help make some of that lost money back for the program:

LEONARD HAMILTON- Do you like chasing the beautiful perfect ten hard-to-get girl that everyone wants, or do you go for the solid 7.5-8/10 that comes on strong to you? In this coaching market, Shaka is to the Illini is that perfect ten girl and Hamilton is the latter. He’s pushed hard to get his name in the Illini coaching derby, and given all that he’s accomplished at a football school like Florida State, you have to put him at the top of the list. The Seminoles #10 over #2 upset over Notre Dame in the 2011 Tournament was impressive.

And after getting rejected by the girl you poured your heart for, spent a ton of money on and devoted half your time, sometimes you want to go with the one that appreciates you.

ANTHONY GRANT- The Alabama head man is reportedly not interested. Then again has seen the scrilla Thomas is willing to lay down for this gig. “Been spending 100s since they had small faces.”

LORENZO ROMAR- Why? What was he really accomplished?

We know the racial issue is in play here during this process, especially given the University’s history of never having a minority coach. And the unhappiness of two trustees after the football hire. Therefore, I listed the African-American candidates at the top of the list. Here are a few more names in the mix:


MICK CRONIN- Cronin has revived the Cincinnati basketball program, gradually improving the team each year of his tenure. He hasn’t made a big splash until just now, getting the Bearcats into the Sweet 16. Beat the Buckeyes and he’ll move to the top of the list. Another reason he’s a front-runner: Cronin was hired at Cincinnati by Mike Thomas.

BUZZ WILLIAMS- I don’t really consider Williams a bonafide candidate, because I believe Marquette is a step up from Illinois right now. I agree with Adam Hoge of CBS:

The Marquette program hasn’t skipped a beat since Williams took over for Tom Crean four years ago. He’s won at least 22 games every year and has the Golden Eagles in the Sweet 16 this year. It’s unclear if Williams would be willing to leave — some consider the Marquette job better than the Illinois job — as the Golden Eagles put a lot of money into their basketball program.

CHRIS COLLINS- has shown interest in both the Illinois and Northwestern jobs, and I think you know which gig is superior between those two. The Duke assistant gets offers every year at this time, yet he stays in Durham. Is it because of the Mike Krzyzewski coaching tree of death? He doesn’t want to become the next branch? Collins has the strong Chicago ties mandated by Thomas, as he helped get Jon Scheyer to choose Duke over Illinois; even though Scheyer’s high school coach was Bruce Weber’s brother! Now that’s a recruiting coup.

GREGG MARSHALL- Some people believe that he’s a better fit at Illinois than even Shaka. I don’t buy the hype. He has led Wichita St to three consecutive 25+ win seasons while playing in the Missouri Valley Conference, and before the Shockers he was pretty big at Winthrop taking them to the tourney in seven of nine seasons. I guess his resume is ok, but this is quite a step down in auxiliary plan from Shaka.


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