Nearly five years have gone by.
Nearly. Five. Years.
In spring of 2012, Illinois introduced John Groce as head coach of its basketball program. It was an exciting announcement that many felt would restore the Illini to the program’s former heights.
After all, Groce had shown some impressive results at Ohio and with the resources of a Big Ten program like Ohio? Watch out.
But roughly five years later, Groce has failed to live up to expectations. After Saturday’s embarrassing home loss to Penn State, he now sits with a 90-73 overall record and a putrid 32-52 record in Big Ten play. Unbelievable struggles given the history of Illinois and what the program has accomplished prior to Groce taking over at the helm.
Things are getting worse too. Despite going 23-13 and making the NCAA Tournament during his first season, Illinois regressed to 20, 19, and 15 wins in the next three seasons. Illinois will likely pass that 15-win mark this season, but it won’t mean much as the Illini would have to win this year’s Big Ten Tournament to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season.
To put those struggles into perspective, just take a look at what Illinois has accomplished over the last 40 years. Between 1981 and Groce’s arrival in 2012, Illinois made 24 NCAA Tournaments, eight Sweet Sixteens, four Elite Eights, two Final Fours, and one trip to the National Championship game.
There were certainly been rough stretches, but the record speaks for itself. Illinois was one of the nation’s most decorated programs. And prior to Groce’s arrival, Illinois hadn’t missed the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years since 1992 and hadn’t missed it for three straight years since the Carter Administration. Both of those streaks were snapped with ease under John Groce.
It would be one thing if this was happening at a mid-major.
But this is Illinois.
This is the Orange and Blue.
And simply put, it’s time for Illinois to move on.
Hopes may have been high when Groce took over, but after nearly five years and well over 150 games, there’s no denying that Illinois isn’t anywhere close to achieving any of its season goals. Even if the Illini have seen some (intermittent) bright spots, is the program anywhere close to winning a Big Ten title or making a Final Four?
The simple answer is no.
Now, some may point to the recruiting as evidence of where the program is headed. After all, the program’s 2017 recruiting class is arguably the best in the Big Ten and is stacked with four players who could contribute as freshmen. Some would argue that things should turn around as soon as those prospects arrive.
But that would be some leap of faith.
And why do I say that?
Well, look at the program’s 2015 recruiting class. We heard many of the same sentiments that as we are hearing now. With so much talent arriving, things would “surely” turn around in the next year or two.
But as we now know, that class never lived up to that hype and just one of those players (Jalen Coleman-Lands) has done much of anything with the Illini. Would it be that shocking if the same thing happened with this 2017 class? After all, the same staff would be coaching this one as well.
Calling for a coach’s firing is always a drastic move, but the time has come. It’s time to give someone else a shot to build on what Groce has started. If not, Illinois is going to risk spending another year or two in neutral.