Yesterday's loss to Iowa was the dagger. After nine years of service, Bruce Weber is no longer the coach of Illinois basketball. Not a soul, including Weber himself, is shocked by this revelation. It was merely time for a change for both parties.
For Weber, a $3.9 million parting gift will come his way, along with what should be a handful of not-quite-Big Ten-level job offers.
For Illinois, the search for a new leader begins now, and it's probably time to make a splash. Here are five realistic candidates from the head coaching ranks across college hoops:
1. Shaka Smart - VCU
The obvious pick. The, ahem, smart pick. Shaka knows Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas from his Akron days. But what of the eight-year contract Shaka signed with VCU roughly 11 months ago? Who cares? Rip it up. That's what expensive lawyers are for. Smart turns 35 this year, and is the most promising young coach under 40 not named Brad Stevens. If he's not at the top of Thomas' wish list then something is seriously wrong.
2. Anthony Grant - Alabama
Grant was Shaka's old mentor at VCU, and is in his sixth year of head coaching at the college level. He served as an assistant under Billy Donovan at Florida for an entire decade before branching out on his own in 2006, and has posted six consecutive winning seasons since. He's young enough (45) to be a long-term guy, and isn't exactly in the most ideal situation in the SEC. A permanent move to Champaign could suit him well.
3. Frank Martin - Kansas State
If Thomas is looking for old-school discipline and somebody to yell endlessly at the next Meyers Leonard for not using his God-given size, then Manhattan, Kansas is a pretty solid place to look. Martin appears to truly form close bonds with his players over time though, so it would be hard to imagine him leaving with so many youngsters on his current roster. Then again, we've seen it happen before, so each of them could transfer to Illinois on a whim and follow Martin's lead.
4. Mick Cronin - Cincinnati
Think about it: Thomas accepted the AD job with Cincy in '05, and Cronin took over coaching duties in '06. So there's a connection there that cannot be ignored. Couple that with the fact that Cronin's conference is about to become about 94% more terrible in the coming seasons and there's a pretty obvious incentive to listen too. Cincinnati's expected roster turnover after this year also needs to be taken into consideration.
5. Gregg Marshall - Wichita State
Long shot, I know. But if none of the big names are biting, it's going to be up to Thomas to try to find the best mix of experience and upside. While Marshall has never coached in a major conference before, he's taken a middling Wichita State program into a near-Elite Eight contender in five years. And this comes after he led Winthrop to the Big Dance in seven of his nine seasons in the Big South. Hiring Marshall would hardly represent that 'splash', but it's entirely conceivable that the pond won't have much water in it to begin with. At the very least he should be on the list.