After the Illini lost to Purdue on Wednesday night, about the only thing Bruce Weber forgot to say in his concession speech was that he was releasing his delegates to vote their conscience.
It’s not that Weber lost his job with his postmortem, it’s just deciding whether he already had been fired, whether he wanted to get fired, or whether he was daring his boss to fire him.
Weber was honest, if a bit confused. I love him for that. The media, if not the sporting world, regularly calls for honesty. But there seems to be no room for that these days, not if you want to stay employed, anyway.
Weber pretty much called out Meyers Leonard by name, giving the feeling that the Illinois big man was a big nothing unless threatened with benching the way he was at halftime Wednesday.
“That’s the way he should play all the time,’’ Weber said. “He should have 20 rebounds all the time. It's not fair to him. It's not fair to us. It's not fair to his teammates."
Weber then called out those teammates, leaving the impression that it’s a roster of mentally weak and emotionally homeless players. At the same time, Weber called out himself for creating an atmosphere that produced a bunch of weak-kneed wimps and heartless representatives of the basketball program.
Get a load of this: “You have to develop a culture and the last three years all I did was worry about winning instead of developing a culture of toughness. And that’s my fault. The kids, we’re always mollycoddling them.”
And get a load of this: “It’s just sad. I feel really bad for my staff. They worked so hard. Countless hours. Preparation. The sad thing about the whole thing, and I guess it’s my fault, instead of creating toughness and developing a team, I coached not to lose all year. And that’s really sad, to be honest.”
This is where Weber got confused. Either he spent the last three years worrying about winning or he coached not to lose. Pick one. No, forget it. Doesn’t matter.
Weber’s done. He took the blame that everyone has been dying to give him. He’ll take the fall, and it will be justified because the players he “mollycoddled’’ were the players he recruited. His players can’t win in the Big Ten, not enough, nor can his players win in the tournament. His players are weak, he’s the reason, and so, the coach who brought them in will precede them out.
I’m not advocating Weber’s firing because I really don’t care and I really don’t think a new coach will matter the way Illini followers think.
I’ve heard it said that Illinois is a basketball school. Actually, it’s a bad-pig-farm-smell school, but as far as sports go, it’s a basketball school by default, which doesn’t mean it’s a prime job.
Sorry to break it to the fine burghers of Champaign and Urbana, but that’s not a destination for a coach who plans to stick around. I mean, they teach history down there, don’t they?
Look, if you land a Bill Self-type again, you’d better find a replacement at the same time because he won’t stick around much longer than most good freshmen do. Truth is truth.
And a further truth is, a new athletic director usually wants his own guys running the department’s two revenue-producing programs. Illini AD Mike Thomas brought in an underwhelming name to lead the football program. Wait, don’t tell me. I’ll get it. Tim Something?
Whatever, that’s how it’ll go down with basketball eventually. It always does. Thomas will say his list has big names on it. He will claim to consider game-changers, and he might land one, who’ll leave as soon as a real job opens up, and then the sentiment will be to find a coach who wants to plant roots, or some such hokey, countrified, farmer expression.
And you watch, the Illini will end up with some version of Bruce Weber 2.0, the one without the truth chip.