Amidst the Ohio State men’s basketball team’s run to a fourth consecutive Big Ten Tournament Championship Game appearance, the coaching landscape of Big Ten basketball has changed drastically.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber was fired Friday morning after his Illini team was eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament with an opening round, 64-61 loss to Iowa. The firing prompted Michigan State coach Tom Izzo to say he felt “bad for Illini nation.”
The firings didn’t stop there. Later Friday afternoon, Nebraska coach Doc Sadler was relieved of his duties as the Cornhuskers’ coach a day after Purdue eliminated his team from the Big Ten Tournament Thursday.
In nine seasons at Illinois, Weber posted a 210-101 record and an appearance in the 2005 NCAA Championship Game, which the Illini lost to North Carolina. The Illini’s Thursday loss brought an end to a season that saw the team post a 17-15 overall record after they began the season 15-3.
Just hours after Weber’s firing, Izzo, a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, used several minutes of a postgame press conference to address the matter following MSU’s Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal-round win against Iowa.
“I’m sick about (Weber’s firing) … He’s done it the right way. He doesn’t cheat. He mans up to his own responsibilities. Incredible, incredible person,” Izzo said. “I think it was ridiculous the way that thing was handled. If I take abuse for that, I really don’t care because I’m also the president of our association. This isn’t about friendship. This is about a profession.
“I feel bad for Illini nation because somebody’s — somebody pulled the rug out from under them.”
Izzo was referring to the fact that Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas did support Weber when asked about the coach’s future at the university during a Feb. 11 radio interview.
During a Friday press conference he Weber said he hadn’t eaten or slept in 24 hours.
“I’ve been incredibly fortunate to serve as the head basketball coach at the University of Illinois,” Weber said. “As you know, I grew up in Milwaukee (Wis.) in the heart of Big Ten country, so it was truly a dream come true for me to come to Illinois and run a Big Ten program.”
Athletic director Tom Osborne was the bearer of bad tidings for Nebraska’s Sadler, who led the Cornhuskers to a 12-18 overall record during its first season as a member of the Big Ten.
During a Friday press conference, Osborne said he appreciated Sadler’s contributions to Nebraska’s men’s basketball program during his six years in Lincoln, Neb., but said he felt the program had lost momentum.
“I appreciate all of the efforts of Doc Sadler and his coaching staff,” Osborne said. “Doc has worked hard, has great integrity and has been nothing but positive through a difficult season. Doc and I both felt this season could be his best with an experienced team returning, and with new facilities we could start moving into a brighter era for Nebraska basketball. However, injuries, a difficult schedule and competing in a new conference has made the season even more difficult.
“Unfortunately, I feel the program has lost momentum which makes recruiting and fan support more problematic, thus the change.”
At the same press conference, a visibly emotional Sadler addressed his dismissal from the program.
“I wanted to be the guy that won that first NCAA Tournament game (in program history),” Sadler said. “It didn’t happen. That’s the bottom line. It all comes down to winning, and that’s what it should come down to. I told (Osborne) I disagreed with it (the firing). I didn’t agree with everything about it, but, at the same time, I respected his opinion.”
Permanent replacements for vacant coaching positions at Illinois and Nebraska have not been announced.
While those two schools were starting to rebuild their programs, OSU was busy padding its NCAA Tournament resume.
The Buckeyes advanced to the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game on Sunday, where they lost to Michigan State, 68-64. The Spartans went on to claim a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament’s West Region while OSU was handed a No. 2 seed in the East Region. OSU will play the No. 15-seed Loyola (MD) Greyhounds on Thursday at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Tipoff is set for about 9:45 p.m.