(WSCR) To put it simply, the Illinois coaching search was a bit of a circus.
Each day, new reports would arise saying which coaches Illinois was pursuing, as well as which coaches were turning down the job.
In fact, reports surfaced that five coaches – Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens, Lorenzo Romar, Anthony Grant and Leonard Hamilton – turned down the opportunity to coach the Fighting Illini.
Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said most of those reports were simply false.
“For people to say coach Groce is the sixth choice, that’s absolutely untrue,” Thomas told The McNeil and Spiegel Show. “When we developed our short list early on, he was a primary candidate on that short list.
LISTEN: Mike Thomas on The McNeil and Spiegel Show
“I was satisfied with lid on the information flow coming out of the division of intercollegiate athletics, coming out of the people who were integrally involved in the process from my end. Not only the people on our campus that were involved, but the search firm that was involved in the process. I can tell you I was very pleased with that. For me, I didn’t see any hiccups in the process. It went according to plan. Now, most ADs are silent in a search process, so there’s a vacuum there. It’s perceived that there’s inactivity or that there’s no information. So, what happens is a lot of people start to throw stuff up against the wall. Most of it’s fiction, most of it’s not true.”
So where did the rumors come from?
“It didn’t come from us and it didn’t come from the search firm,” Thomas said. “It can come from people in the outside world. It can come from people in the media. It can come from, I guess, people who are following our program. … I’ve been involved in searches where people talk about candidates, and I go back and look at it and say, ‘Well, none of these people were even talked to. They weren’t even on our list.'”
A driving force behind this coaching search was the idea that a minority candidate be hired — something Thomas said was nothing new to him.
“In all the searches I’ve ever been involved with, I truly believe that you’ve got to not only have a quality pool of candidates but you have to have a diverse pool of candidates,” he said. “I think that’s tremendously important, and it was in this case. At the end of the day, our goal was to hire the best basketball coach for the University of Illinois and I think we’ve done that.”
Thomas also promised a commitment to Chicago recruiting.
“I think that the city of Chicago, the inner-city schools, the public schools, are critical and very important to us,” he said. “Certainly, we’re always about doing things the right way. There are a lot of great players and coaches and people in that area. We’d absolutely be foolish not to pay attention to that city, which has some of the best basketball played in this country. That’ll be a focus of ours.”