Wisch: Is Bruce Weber Over-Coaching The Illini?

By Dave Wischnowsky–

The State of Illinois is caught in a blizzard. And the state of Illinois basketball is caught in a bind.

So…which one digs itself out first?

Well, if Tuesday night’s free-wheeling 68-51 victory over Penn State at an Assembly Hall as barren as Chicago grocery shelves is any indication, then the answer just might be Illinois basketball.

(After all, have you looked outside today?)

Nevertheless, even with Tuesday’s blowout win temporarily calming the natives, angry storm clouds continue to gather over the Illini hoops program – and in particular its embattled coach, who seems to blamed by a frustrated fandom for everything from shooting slumps to…

…Hey, can this snowstorm be pinned on Bruce Weber?

Really, though, on a serious note, with an 0-5 record this season in games decided by six points or fewer – and completely inexcusable losses to awful UIC and short-handed Indiana – Illini fans have every right to be frustrated with the way the 2010-11 campaign has gone thus far.

But, I would also remind them that the season isn’t over yet – not by a long shot. And Illinois is hardly the only highly rated team to suffer its share of setbacks. In fact, as Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis reported on Monday, last week 14 ranked teams lost and the entire AP Top 25 compiled just a combined 22-20 record.

“That’s right,” wrote Davis, “the very best teams in the country were two games over .500. It’s the very definition of mass mediocrity.”

With its slew of seniors and a talented crop of underclassmen, however, Illinois (15-7 overall, 5-4 Big Ten) should be far from mediocre. And, to that point, Davis also went on to write, “It has been a long time since I’ve been as disappointed in a team as I am right now in Illinois.”

He’s hardly the only one.

Now, I’ve been a longtime supporter of Bruce Weber and continue to be, but I’m also not a blind one. And while most of Illinois’ losses are not bad and all have been competitive, the simple truth is that with seven defeats already, Weber is not getting his job done. He needs to right the Illini ship, right quick.

And in order to do it, I think the veteran coach should consider making a drastic change to his bench coaching style.

My biggest issue with this Illini team has been its maddening inability to execute in crunch time and pull out the close ones – any of the close ones. You figure a team can’t possibly lose every tight game, yet Illinois has done just that.

There must be a reason why, and since the Illini’s 52-49 flop at Indiana last week, I’ve spent the past several days weighing different arguments. And where’s what I’ve settled on: There’s no doubt (or shouldn’t be) that Weber knows how to coach basketball. He proved that at Southern Illinois and by guiding Illinois to the 2005 Final Four. But it’s become my concern that Weber might, in fact, actually be over-coaching this Illini team.

It’s well known to anyone with ears that during games Weber barks out constant “real-time” orders to his players from the sidelines. And it has to be difficult for the Illini to play defense or run an offense while attempting to listen to their coach shouting out split-second directions on the fly.

Listening, interpreting and reacting will also be slower than just naturally reacting to an in-game situation, and I think that could be an explanation as to why Illinois players often seem to commit bad turnovers and make late defensive responses.

Last year, Illinois Athletic Director Ron Guenther sat struggling Illini football coach Ron Zook down and told him that he must make changes by hiring smart coaches to run his offense and defense and cutting back on his own decision-making. Those orders proved to be a big positive as the moribund Illinois football program was revived and went on to enjoy a surprisingly solid season.

On the flipside, if the late-game conundrums by the Illini basketball team aren’t sorted out by Weber on his own very soon, Guenther may need to have a similar sit-down with his hoops coach and tell him to just let his players play more naturally.

And save the shouting for practice.

Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.

davewisch Wisch: Is Bruce Weber Over Coaching The Illini?

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Great lede Dave, clever.

    I dunno.
    Most college hoops coaches seem mega-hyper and scream real-time instructions to their “kids” all the time.
    Bruce might be a bit more hyper than average but seems to be within the norm for that profession.

    • tk

      I vaguely remember a quote, by I think John Wooden, who stated that if during a game his players looked at him for instruction, he felt he had failed his team by not preparing them enough in practice to know what to do at game time.

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        Ya know, tk, that’s a great, great comment.
        Yesterday when Dave posted this, I had the image in my mind of Coach Wooden and his rolled-up program…..my, how things have changed.

  • Dave Wischnowsky

    Most coaches do yell, and I certainly wouldn’t expect Weber to cut it out completely. But I think he might tend to overdo it, and could be a little more sparing with his shouts. It’s really the only rational explanation I can come up with for the Illini playing so tight in tight situations, other than that they’re just not very good (and I don’t think that’s the case).

    Now, I could certainly be completely wrong about all of this, but this is my theory and I think it’s something at least worth considering.

    There is talent on this Illini team, and I’d be interested to see how the kids played if they were perhaps allowed to “just play” a little bit more. Hearing non-stop instructions has to be distracting, I would think, at least on some level. And maybe on a lot of levels.

    • Rocky Hill

      Dave , you make very valid points!! I’ve been ripped for overcoaching and screaming on the sidelines too. I used to be a complete maniac on the sideline. At some point it comes down to players making plays. A wise man once said ” it’s not about the x’s and o’s, it’s about the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s”. Nevertheless you raise valid points.

      • Rocky Hill

        Dave, I’d like to also add those people ripping Bruce Weber weren’t ripping him when they were NCAA runner-up. The man is a great coach.

      • Dave Wischnowsky

        Hey Rocky, is this THE Rocky Hill that coached the great Thornton teams during the 1990s? If so, I very much enjoyed watching your teams compete when I was in high school and college.

        And I completely agree that Bruce Weber is a great coach. I think he’s often unfairly criticized, but like all coaches I also don’t think he’s perfect and no doubt there are adjustments he can make to be an even better coach and adapt with his current team. Here’s to hoping that he and the players are able to figure it all out before it gets too late this season.

      • Rocky Hill

        Hey Dave, Yeah this is me. Thank you for the compliments on my Thornton teams. I thought your article on Bruce Weber was very interesting. Coaching is a weird profession!! You made great points that made me reflect on my own career. Keep up the good work and God bless you young man!!

      • Dave Wischnowsky

        Thank you very much, Rocky. I appreciate it. And I hope you have a great evening. Stay warm!

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Dave, on further reflection, you make excellent points…”just play.”

  • Dallon Chistensen

    Dave’s argument is one I have advocated for several years. Take a look at Weber’s coaching style compared to people like Coach K, Brad Stevens at Butler, and Izzo. Yes, those guys are coaching. However, they are letting their players play the game. Stevens keeps such a calm demeanor on the sidelines, and his Butler team last year fed off of that. They were never rattled.

    I admit up front that I do not believe Bruce Weber is not the answer for the Illini program as things stand now. He possesses an intelligent basketball mind, but he is the worst micromanager I have seen on a basketball sideline. The players play so tight because they have to think all the time. And do NOT get me started on the “prevent offense”, which has prevented at least three Illini wins this year.

    I hope Ron Guenther sits Bruce down and discusses this with him. Not only is this hurting this year’s team, but what recruits want to play with the coach yelling in your ear at practice AND at games? If Bruce had half the confidence in his players that I have (yes, even Tisdale and Davis), I think he would be fine letting them play a lot more. We would see a more confident and relaxed Illini team.

  • Whatdo Iknow

    Well i said last year. I hope McCamey goes to NBA, we can’t afford to let him run this team, another year. He sat down the other night. Illini go on a run. He comes back in, Penn State goes on a run.

  • RJL

    I’m with Whatdo Iknow. McCamey is getting worse not better. Team watches him like the late 80’s Bulls watched Jordan.

    Offense runs better without him. PLUS, our bench players are both better than the teams we’re losing too AND need some experience for coming seasons. Let ’em play – let ’em play hard.

    Gotta wonder about not starting Richmond too. He’s our best all-around player and adds intensity the Seniors clearly lack.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Richmond started last night vs. Penn State, which was a good decision by Bruce. Jereme needs to be in there as much as possible — and Cole played well off the bench vs. the Lions.

  • Whatdo Iknow

    RJL i also agree with you. The bench players seem quicker and more intense. Has anybody else noticed when Meyers Lenord plays, if he makes a mistake he is yanked out almost imediately, compare to rest of team. i have seen him play, defensively he can dominate around the basket. Richmond is a P.T.P.er, Cole played great! Davis played great! Richardson played great! Those guys made Tisdale more effective, last night.

  • Whatdo Iknow

    I also want to make one thing perfectly clear! I think Weber is a good coach. I think he needs to recruit some more beef, muscles, at least one a year.

  • Taylor

    Izzos and CREANS of the Big Ten? Are you serious Joe, Crean?

    FYI Illinois beat Maryland by 4 in New York.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      I just let that Crean comment go, Taylor. Really did not know what to say about that one. Ha :)

  • Bill Hillard

    Forget this year – how about the fact that we have not won a tournment game in four years (likely five based on this team). That should be completely unacceptable at Illinois. Forget sitting down Weber – how about firing him for lack of job performance over a five year span.

  • Dallon Christensen

    Another thing I considered as I read Dave’s blog last night. While the motion offense is great in theory, perhaps this team needs some structured set offenses to run where they don’t have to read and think. You can just run your offensive pattern and not worry about what everyone else is doing. When you watch Bo Ryan’s teams at Wisconsin, the swing offense is a pattern. They do the same thing just about all the time, but they execute the heck out of it.

    Nothing would make me happier than to see Bruce Weber succeed greatly at Illinois. He’s a good man and a fine representative of the university. However, he’s being paid 1.5M to meet expectations. Yes, those expectations are high. However, it comes with the territory at Illinois with the talent in the state. If Bruce is not able to meet those expectations (which should honestly be to contend for a Big Ten title every season and be a legitimate threat to reach the second weekend of the NCAA tournament), then we need to find someone who can meet those expectations.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Dave, you hit another home-run with this one.

    Keep up the GREAT work!

  • Chiefblowchunks

    IIR, Weber was constantly shouting instructions to Luther Head during 2005. Have you asked other coaches what they think about Weber’s technique? Have you asked what Illin players think about Weber’s technique. Have you noticed the Illini players are weak in their fundamentals. Have you noticed that several of the Illini players are lower I.Q.? How many games have you coached; are all players interchangable and there is an amount of shouting that is acceptable? What amount is the right amount of shouting? What evidence do you poseess that this team will do better without the shouting. This is tradtionally the job of the point guard and DMac does not do this. What is the downside of not shouting instructions?

    The current passion by the knuckleheads on the chat boards: Weber yells too much and micromanages too much, Weber is stubborn because he doesn’t play defense my way (zone), he substitues poorly (not my way). This is another variation of: Weber can’t recruit.

    If Weber is hurting his team with yelling instructions, wouldn’t his other coaches tell him or are they “Yes” men only.

    Your article is irresponsible and poorly thought out; go do some research first.

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