Bernstein: Illini Hire Must Ignore Race

By Dan Bernstein- Senior Columnist

(CBS) It’s difficult enough to hire the right basketball coach at Illinois, without choosing to limit the field of candidates beforehand.

Finding a good fit for the job is tough for a school that, itself, doesn’t quite seem to fit. It’s a rural college with inner-city recruiting expectations, a major program that clearly isn’t a Major Program. It may still be a springboard for a rising, young coach, and not a destination.

So it would be silly to only be looking at faces of a certain color, as was the case when the search was beginning. The good news, now, is that better sense is starting to inform the process.

AD Mike Thomas came under fire in January from two members of the Board of Trustees in the wake of his choice of Tim Beckman as football coach. Lawrence Oliver and James Montgomery voted against approval of Beckman’s contract, believing that Thomas had not tried hard enough to hire a black coach (despite the fact that Houston’s Kevin Sumlin was a top choice before he leveraged Illinois’ interest into a richer pact at Texas A&M).

The two made a convincing enough case at the time – both publicly and privately – that sources indicate that Thomas was, indeed, prepared to focus primarily on black coaches after he fired Bruce Weber. A previous connection to VCU’s Shaka Smart from their days at Akron has made him the ideal choice for Thomas — a smart, respected, energetic, innovative winner who is clearly ready for a step up in size and class.

The early names after Smart, though were less exciting. Reggie Theus has been charming Thomas and those above him, successfully enough to earn full vetting and real viability. Alabama’s Anthony Grant was also mentioned, as was Tommy Amaker of newly-resurgent Harvard.

Something significant happened Thursday, however, that should please Illini fans looking for the best possible coach. During a break in a trustees’ meeting in Urbana, Oliver told the AP he was happy with the current search, and could now support a non-minority hire. After a recent update he received from Thomas, he feels good about the process.

My sources confirm this, adding that the private efforts by Thomas and others to allay board-members’ concerns have been largely successful, helped in no small part by Smart’s high-profile status as the primary option.

So there is new legitimacy to the idea that Baylor’s Scott Drew or Gregg Marshall of Wichita State could be in play. Duke assistant Chris Collins is also surfacing in reports (but one look at the Mike Krzyzewski Coaching Tree of Death should have any AD wondering if Collins is just the next to underwhelm).

This is how it should be, of course.

Thomas owes the university and the fans only the best choice to win basketball games, not to make some symbolic gesture of racial equality. It’s possible, sure, that a black head coach will be better received by the gatekeepers of Chicago’s seedy amateur-talent complex, but that’s only one consideration in a much bigger picture.

And it is true that Weber was uncomfortable with all that surrounded many big-city talents, always carping about “distractions” from hangers-on, moaning about how advice from players’ family members outweighed his own coaching instructions, and struggling with how to balance NBA futures with current roles.

But that’s not necessarily because Weber was white, it’s because Weber was Weber.

His successor needn’t be defined by what Weber was not, or by any shallow, imagined picture of what the Illini coach should look like. All Mike Thomas should be asked to do is find the right guy.

Here’s hoping the next man in charge of Illinois basketball is judged not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his coaching.

bernstein 90x130 Bernstein: Illini Hire Must Ignore Race

Dan Bernstein

Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s columns here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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  • John

    I hate Gregg Marshall.

    • Thurgood

      The New Jim Crow: Billions for NCAA/Illinois. Pennies for Black Coaches and Athletes. The Ultimate Solution: Boycott NCAA Sports/ Merchandise

      This shoe fits Bernstein also. Accordingly, I am posting my comments here.

      On March 28, 2012 Sports Columnist Dave Wischnowsky authored a story regarding the Illinois Basketball Coaching Carousel. He wrote the following:

      (The coaching opening is) “…. a saga that’s become more political than a Chicago election and filled with as many twists and turns as an “L” ride through the Loop. …First, Illinois trustees Lawrence Oliver and James Montgomery painted Illini athletic director Mike Thomas into an incredibly awkward basketball corner by voting against Tim Beckman’s hiring simply because the football coach is white…” – Dave Wischnowsky

      Response: Dear Sir… The above is a quote from your story… It is flawed in that it utterly lacks historical context; and trivializes an issue of social and economic justice. Illinois Trustee James Montgomery is African American. He is one of the nation’s most distinguished attorneys. He is the formal Corporate Counsel for the City of Chicago. He is also correct for voting against Mr. Beckman. Fifty years post the Civil Rights Act an African American deserves to be the Head Coach of Illinois Football or Basketball.

      From Montgomery to Champaign
      Let me guess. In your view Dr. King placed the city of Montgomery Alabama in an “awkward corner” by asking for equal accommodations. Let me remind you Dr. King also asked for jobs for black bus drivers. Your critique of the trustees demand ignores the obvious. The NCAA and Illinois athletics are multi-billion/ million dollar industries; respectively. Blacks are the majority of the stars in both sports. Black people labor and Whites reap billions. Where have we seen this before? — Slavery and Jim Crow laws excluding blacks from schools, employment, and political justice.

      “Traffickers”: Local AAU & High School Coaches
      To be honest, you are not alone. On March 28, 2012, a Score morning hosts referred to local AAU or High School coaches as “traffickers”. He suggested any attempt to leverage a coaching job or an extra pair of gym shoes was exploiting the kids….. Wow.. If anyone is being doing the exploiting; it is the NCAA. defines exploitation as the “utilization for profit and greed”. Hmmm…. NCAA gets billions. White coaches get millions. Black athletes get room, board, ligament damage, fractures, concussions, and risk of paralysis.

      Do not attempt to justify not fairly compensating the players because it is against NCAA regulations and laws. The mere fact that a law is passed does not make it just or fair. The law required that escaped slaves and Jews be turned over to their oppressors. Prohibition was a law. I have checked the Bible, Koran, and Torah. Thou shall not compensate a college athlete is not in there.

      Player Compensation Plans
      By the way, I encourage Illinois and other Hallowed Halls of Education to grant athletes tuition free access to pursue their degrees post sports eligibility. This is the USC model or has been proposed. A simple player compensation plan would minimally pay players the same amount as the coaches; pro rata. For instance, Alabama can afford a 25 million dollar contract for Lou Sabin. It can afford to spread 25 million to players and their families. Another example would be if the new Illinois coach get 2 million per year; the varsity team would share a 2 million pie.

      Bias Prejudice Motive: Follow the Money
      Under the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, it is usually appropriate to examine a witness regarding bias, prejudice, and motive. It is not lost upon me that the Score and most media outlets profit from the exploitation of players. The Score is owned by CBS. CBS paid the NCAA a multi-billion dollar contract for the broadcast rights to NCAA basketball tournament; rights alone. Do not expect much player compensation advocacy from Score talk show hosts. Follow the money.

      I know. You do not understand or agree. For that matter, our society did not understand the injustice of slavery or segregation for centuries. Likewise, our society did not understand the injustice of sending black soldiers to die in Viet Nam. Like my father, blacks fought and died in all foreign wars while being died access to education, jobs, the vote, and political freedom by U.S. law. The Illinois Coaching Vacancy raises the issue of social justice and access to a multi-billion dollar pie. I strongly support a boycott of Illinois athletics. As in Montgomery in the 60’s; blacks are not allowed to drive the coaching bus. Therefore, we should boycott. I strongly discourage African American athletes from attending the University of Illinois. I encourage a boycott of NCAA merchandise and broadcast. Including the Final Four.
      The NCAA and Illinois Athletics are “The New Jim Crow”
      – THURGOOD – South Shore 

      P.S. In fairness, Uncle Ruckus says you are absolutely correct. There is no need to remedy past discrimination and players do not need to be paid. ;-)

  • Bob

    This is good because Shaka is not coming here.

  • Imgwanna Kikbooti

    Nice piece Bernsie, I agree with Bob, Smart is not coming to Illinois anyway.

  • Baberaham Lincoln

    There’s going to be a lot of crushed hearts when the Illini get passed on by several coaches.

    Time to get realistic.

  • Aaron

    Contrary to popular belief Illinois is not a stepping stone job. It could be for a rising star like Self. Kruger left for the money and prestige of the NBA. Even if Illinois is used as a stepping stone for a Coach, that isn’t a bad thing. You hire the next Superstar then. Also, program likely to be in better shape then. There is not that many blueblood jobs to go around. Stepping stone or not, so what. Go after best candidates, starting with Smart.

  • Julius

    Get the coach from Marquette. Big East is falling apart and how much farther can Marquette really truly go in terms of prominence? Just ask the head coach at Indiana….

  • Cameltoe Rancher

    Amen to that brother! Hire the best coach that will coach next season, regardless of skin color or future career plans.

  • nwfisch

    Captain Obvious to the rescue.

  • Moderate Spaulding!

    Those same street agents that told the last rising star to trash his freshmen year during a, signed, sealed, and delivered, lock-out season.
    Hopefully, the next coach will bypass the CofC. Sure, the problem won’t go away, completely, but Chicago is only right up I-57.

  • Neoga Toga

    Then he can climb to the mountaintop and see…other mountaintops – much higher and off in the distance, at least until his phone rings.

  • This Guy

    I agree with all jobs race, gender, religion shouldn’t be a factor no matter what. It’s why Affirmative Action really sets college admissions back to do the Jim Crowe days.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Get Smart!

  • Jay

    In Illinois’ +100 plus year of existence, the AD and Board of Trustees never gave serious consideration to blacks for its Mens’ Basketball and Football head coaching positions until this year. Now that its brought up as a topic this year, people like Bernstein want to make it seems like its a problem to give color a consideration. Bernstein, have you ever written an article that criticized or scrutinized the Illinois AD and its Board of Trustees for its failure to consider racial diversity in its hiring process for the Mens Basketball and Football head coaching positions in years past???? Hell no you haven’t. Color should be given consideration in the hiring process, given the fact that most of the recruits are black and from the inner city, and I’m sure these black athletes would appreciate having a head coach that look like them.

    • Tom

      Get real, they don’t want a coach who looks like them or talks like them. Basketball players (and football players too) want a coach who will give them the best chance at winning and moving on to the next level. Illinois needs a good coach. Not a white coach or a black coach, a GOOD coach.

      • Jay

        you a fool if you don’t think that those kids won’t take that into consideration. just like a white kid would also take into the consideration a coach’s skin color. you get real, fool.

    • Dave

      Jay, you are the one that sounds like a fool making comments like “black athletes want coaches that look like them.” They want a coach who can take them to championships. You come across as a racist with little education.

    • Evan

      this wins the most moronic comment of the column award

  • Terry Boers Sock Puppet's Sock Puppet

    I thought the color of the next Illini BB coach was important? Wow, how quickly minds change in order to write a column.

  • oh brother


    I was a former D-1 athlete and the kids do not take the color of the coach’s skin into consideration. They look to see which school is going to give them the most scholarship money, help them succeed in their sport, and get a degree.

    Parents do not want a coach that is not going to be presentable and help their child as much as they can. Parents don’t want a coach who will be bringing in a ton of baggage, i.e. their AAU buddies on staff that have no college coaching background and a criminal past.

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