Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Loyalty: Dead end for Weber & other coaches

If college basketball success is measured by national championships, Illinois hasn't had a successful coach in the modern era. If, however, success is measured by Final Four appearances, Bruce Weber and Lou Henson have been the only successful coaches in the last six decades.

What else -- besides first names that, in good times, elicited "oooooo" sounds from fans -- do Henson and Weber have in common?

Ugly endings.

Despite a thrilling ride to the Final Four in '89, two other appearances in the tournament's second weekend and a dozen NCAA bids overall, Henson was run out of Urbana-Champaign by a pitchfork-and-torch-wielding mob that deemed him inadequate in his last few seasons.

Weber took the Illini to the 2005 NCAA title game and led them to six tourney bids in his first eight years. But Season No. 9 has been horrific and new AD Mike Thomas is ready to clean house -- much to the delight of a salivating, angry fanbase.

Contrast the departure of Henson and imminent departure of Weber to those of the two other Illinois coaches of the last 35 years: Lon Kruger and Bill Self.

Kruger hung around for only four years, leading the Illini to the second round of the NCAA tourney in three of those seasons, before bolting for the NBA's Atlanta Hawks.

Self stayed in Urbana-Champaign for just three seasons -- taking the Illini to the Elite Eight, Sweet Sixteen and second round -- before leaving for the college hoops nirvana of Lawrence, Kansas.

Self, who had said he envisioned a long career at Illinois, was ripped for being disloyal after he left. To this day, even though he recruited the outstanding players who helped Weber reach the '05 title game, S-E-L-F is a four-letter word in Illini Land.

Kruger was neither as popular nor quite as successful as Self, but he, too, was blasted for turning his back on the program.

Which brings us to the subject of loyalty.

Illinois fans are ticked off that Kruger and, especially, Self were disloyal. These same fans have had absolutely no problem being disloyal to Henson and Weber. Nor would those fans have worried about being disloyal to Kruger and Self had either of those men encountered a rough stretch.

I'm not saying this only happens in Urbana-Champaign. It happens everywhere, including my alma mater. I know Marquette fans whose blood still boils at the mere mention of Tom Crean, who left for Indiana four years ago. (My blood doesn't boil. I appreciated Crean for rebuilding the program but never thought he was a great coach, and I prefer his replacement, Buzz Williams.)

Point is: Fans are loyal only to the extent that their coach wins. Period.

Is that fair? Come on ... what is fair? It simply is.

Obviously, if Weber really could have had the Oklahoma job last year as had been rumored, he should have taken it.

To hell with loyalty.

It's far better to do what Self and Kruger did and beat the pitchforks and torches out of town, because loyalty is never a two-way street.

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