Shaka Smart Does Illinois A Favor, Says No

Shaka Smart Does Illinois A Favor, Says No

Reports are indicating that Shaka Smart has turned down the head coaching job at the University of Illinois. The Chicago Sun-Times was the first media outlet to report the story. Smart, 34, reported turned down big money from the Illini to stay at VCU.

VCU, of course, is doing something right now that no college or university in the state of Illinois did this year: playing in the NCAA tournament.

In turning down the Illinois job, Smart did the Illini a huge favor.

Smart has been at VCU since 2009, and it's his first head coaching job. He was previously an assistant at Akron, Clemson and Florida. He's a Wisconsin native, but his current roster shows a major flaw for Illini fans: only one player on the VCU roster is from west of Ohio, sophomore DJ Haley (from California).

VCU made a historic run to the Final Four last year, and is playing well again this year. Yet there is only one player on ESPN's list of the top 100 seniors in the country that has committed to VCU, and Jordan Burgess is number 95 on the list.

The cynical response to that would be "you don't need top 100 recruits to win games." And, at VCU, you don't.

But in the Big Ten, it's a different story.

Michigan State has commitments from four of the top 100.

Michigan, Indiana and Purdue have commitments from three of the top 100 each.

Iowa has commitments from two of the top 100.

Wisconsin has one commitment from the top 100 as well.

I'm no math genius, but that looks like 16 of the top 100 seniors in the nation are headed to a Big Ten university in the fall. Five Big Ten school advanced out of the first round of the tournament, and Indiana knocked Smart's VCU squad out of the tournament.

With all due respect to the Colonial Athletic Association, it isn't as tough as the Big Ten. Northeastern ain't Northwestern, and Drexel isn't on par with the Tom Izzo-led Spartans.

The point is, Smart doesn't have an active recruiting base in the midwest, and he isn't succeeding against competition that's anywhere close to what the Big Ten would present on a nightly basis.

Did Bruce Weber have an elite pedigree when he took the job? No. But he was an assistant coach at Western Kentucky and Purdue before leading Southern Illinois to the tournament as their head coach. He had recruiting roots in the Midwest.

Did Bill Self have an elite resume when he was hired? No. But he had been successful at Oral Roberts and Tulsa before coming to Illinois, and had been a head coach for seven years at two successful schools. He had a proven track record of climbing the coaching ranks.

Did Lon Kruger have a big-time track record when he arrived in Champaign? Yes. He had been a head coach at Kansas State and Florida before arriving at Illinois, and had taken both of those schools deep into the tournament.

Since Lou Henson left in 1996, Illinois hasn't seen a coach last longer than the nine years Weber spent on campus. What Self and Kruger had in common that Illinois cannot afford in their next head coach is the length of their stay.

If Illinois wants to compete for Big Ten championships, they need to lock someone up to become the face of the program the way Izzo is at Michigan State, Bo Ryan is at Wisconsin and Tom Crean has quickly become at Indiana. And they need someone who can recruit in the Midwest, specifically Chicago.


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  • I follow you - but this doesn't make me feel any better, being from Urbana-Champaign, It's pretty sad to see where we are compared to what we could/ within all rights should be.

  • In reply to Drew Wasserman:

    Part of my point is that the Illini should be looking for a more established coach than Shaka Smart. I'm looking at guys like Frank Martin at Kansas State and Buzz Williams at Marquette that have done more and have recruited the midwest before. Shaka's a nice coach, but I don't think he was THE GUY for the Illini

  • I agree a lot with what you say. And I think trying to snag Martin or Williams is a great way to go. But I think either of those guys or other coaches in a similar position would have nothing to gain going Illinois…Coaches at schools in other elite conferences that Illinois would be interested in would most likely be taking a step down since Illinois is not an elite Big Ten school. Shaka not taking the job may have saved the Illini from getting an inexperience coach like you said, but not being able to land a coach from the Colonial Athletic Association does not say a lot for Illinois. Being able to land a Martin or Williams would be great for Illinois. But I think they would be better off going for Brad Stevens.

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