I think this is more of an athletic department issue than anything else. Coaches saw how the new athletic director Mike Thomas tossed out the head football coach (Ron Zook who actually deserved to be let go), and both the women’s & men’s head basketball coaches.
Former Illinois men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber was well liked and respected by his peers. Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo was on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” a few weeks ago was you could clearly hear he was upset with how Coach Weber was dismissed from Champaign.
The coaching profession is filled with uncertainty as it is, without having a trigger happy athletic director and some really high expectations at a mid level school with average facilities.
I think the mid level coaches who used to jump to these jobs now have their own leverage and a good situation at their own schools. Look at VCU’s Shaka Smart & Butler’s Brad Stevens (both whom turned down the University of Illinois job), both are well paid, have made Final Four appearances (Stevens made back to back finals appearances), and can choose the jobs they want or just stay where they are without worry.
Brad Stevens’ predecessor was Todd Lickliter who after success at Butler took the head coaching position at the University of Iowa but only lasted three seasons before being fired. He’s now an assistant at Miami of Ohio. Though Todd Lickliter’s predecessor was Thad Matta who is now coaching The Ohio State University and they are in the NCAA final four but Coach Matta had a successful stint at Xavier University in Ohio between Butler and The Ohio State University.
The Big Ten is a meat grinder of a conference, a lot of tough games, tough teams and high expectations. Most
experts agree it was the top basketball conference this past season.
The University of Illinois sits only 150 miles from the biggest city in the conference, that being Chicago and you have to recruit Chicago and its public schools well and keep the other nationally ranked schools from picking it clean of blue chip recruits.
Back in the day with Lou Henson leading Illinois with Jimmy Collins as his lead recruiter keeping that pipeline of Interstate 57 from Chicago to Champaign full of recruits and they made it seem easy, now it is not but the expectations haven’t changed.
College basketball is not a pretty business; it’s based on wins and losses, both on the court and in recruiting.
I think these coaches see Illinois as a mid level school thinking it’s an elite basketball program (and maybe it can be with the right coach), but as of right now it’s a lower level Big Ten school in the midst of the cornfields of central Illinois.