Smile Politely

Finally, in the end: “It’s my fault.”

The headline is a tease.

Bruce Weber laid into his players with a ferocity unequaled in his petulant past. Sure, Weber is well known for tossing his players under the bus. This time, he backed the bus up, and ran over them again.

Wednesday night, while surrendering his career to the media, he swiped one last, desperate time at the foundlings that naïvely made him a millionaire.

Weber’s blame game has developed a nuance over the last three years. He’s learned to add “it’s my fault” while laying his failures at the feet of teenagers.

Fifteen iterations of “I guess it’s my fault” tricked some Illini beat reporters into writing & Tweeting that Weber took responsibility for his team’s problems. But really what he said was, essentially I tried to be the Illinois coach, and I can’t, because the players won’t fit my selfless, hard-nosed Indiana system.

Yes, Weber’s recruits are an entertaining mixture of laid-back personalities. But what does Purdue have?

They have DJ Byrd, who looks like prototypical Indiana grit. But when he’s not kicking Weber’s ass, he’s a soft-spoken roots guitarist. They have Lewis Jackson and Robbie Hummel, guys who play with a chip on their shoulder because Weber bypassed them in the recruiting process.



Seeing this endgame develop since 2009, I’d planned to write a column about the bittersweet departure. There are wonderful people, truly wonderful, who’ll be out of work because of Bruce Weber’s failure. But I can’t bring myself to write that column, and I won’t join the chorus of “Bruce Weber is a great human being.”  The final press conference says it all. As Weber capitulates to the media, he just can’t resist laying the blame on a 19 year-old kid, while also taking major digs at a 20 year-old.


Jerrance Howard is going nowhere but up in college basketball. There’s little more that needs to be said. You’d hope he goes up here. Expect Mike Thomas to offer him a contract extension.

Gary Nottingham is underpaid and under-appreciated. A great basketball mind, he gets the least attention among the staff. Smart, hilarious, professional  —  in that order — Gary has a beautiful wife and admirable offspring. He should be the head coach at a big program. He has all the tools.

Beth Price is the most down-to-earth person you’re likely to find anywhere near BCS college basketball, an industry where “coachspeak” rivals bubonic plague as a threat to humanity. Jay Price is less human, far more “coachspeak” and thus a lesser known quantity to me. But I do know that he’s a tireless laborer, loyal to a fault, and can recite the NCAA rule book chapter & verse. He’s the kind of guy that will always have a job in basketball because he can direct a program even if he’s assisting some guy who doesn’t know how to run a program. I’d like to see him get a head coaching job if only to see how he’d run it.

After Weber’s stunning press conference, an intervention seems advisable, if just for his health. The stress is obvious. He’s already cracked.

Wayne McClain should be the head coach at Illinois, at least for the last month of the season while Weber rehabs.  McClain seems to be the guy behind every shrewd tactical move. Whether it’s hey, Demetri McCamey should be playing or why don’t we press full court, and see if we can’t climb out of this 15 point hole. He coached Peoria Manual to three consecutive state titles. Sure, he won with Dick van Scyoc’s players and an NBA point guard, but that’s the combination that earned Weber an extra five years at Illinois. Can’t McClain have a month? He’s irascible, and doesn’t like me, so I feel even better recommending him.


Former Illini coach Harv Schmidt sat courtside with his star player, Rick Howat. Harv was All-B1G as a player at Illinois. But as head coach, he couldn’t keep the right kind of player on campus. His system and personality did not mesh with top-flight recruits, and fans starved for entertainment.

It sounds familiar, eh?

Harv lives in Colorado, and has no relation to, nor affiliation with the “Roy and Harv Schmidt” of Illinois Prep Bullseye.

More Articles