Saturday, March 5, 2016

Illinois Firing of Bill Cubit: Right Move, Wrong Time

Josh Whitman had a busy day during his first day on the job as the new Athletic Director at Illinois. He fired Bill Cubit, who had just completed his first season as Illinois head coach as an interim after Tim Beckman was fired for a variety of issues. The fact that Bill Cubit was fired at Illinois isn't all too troubling, but the timing of it is.
Cubit had been given a two year deal to coach Illinois moving forward, a reward for stepping onto a sinking ship and guiding not into the rocks, but gently bumping them during a season of change and transition. Cubit is a good guy, and a decent coach, but was never a popular choice to run an irrelevant program in a Power 5 conference. Detractors were right about that, but he was the best choice that a dysfunctional university could have made during a period that was so absolutely out of control with its dysfunction that it made Donald Trump look like a sane, truth telling, non Nazi, non carnival barker by comparison.
Illinois as a university has been a mess. There is no cohesion in the presidency, the academic councils, or the athletic department, and the AD search has largely been a disaster until Whitman was hired, and he was hired, it should be noted, from as far outside of Power 5 country as you can find. That should go well. Nobody wanted the AD job, and the thought of hiring a football coach within that environment should have scared the hell out of anyone with a vested interest. Most sane people want nothing to do with the University of Illinois. That comes as a shock to nobody.
Bill Cubit stood in as a leader during amazingly turbulent times. He stood in as a calm in a tempest and did a credible job of leading a lost group through those hellish times and showed a good deal of growth among these young men in the process. Of course, he never should have had the job, but who else wanted it?
Josh Whitman is already making a mess before he has even unloaded a house plant into his office. Cubit deserved his reward to at least transition this program over the next two years until calmer times come to the university. At that point, Illinois would be a much more popular destination, if the new group of leaders can show some direction, it could be a much sought after position. That time is not now, as this group of leaders has hardly had a moment to move the needle.
Whitman has hired Lovie Smith, a move that will be made official once he clears all of the internal HR hurdles and paperwork. Lovie Smith has not coached in the NCAA since 1995 as the Ohio State DB coach. His overall record as an NFL coach is 89-87. He is freshly fired from his most recent disaster as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If Whitman thinks that this choice will move the needle in the direction of football success, I am guessing that he will be completely disappointed.
Lovie Smith is not a great football coach. He won three divisional titles with the Bears, but in a weak NFC North, and that success was hardly extended.
This hire smells of desperation for Whitman to make a splashy, big name hire. It was splashy alright, but only in the way that toilet water splashes when human waste drops into it. It was a big name alright, but only big in terms that any name in the NFL is big, even the failures.
It is certain that Cubit probably was not the right guy, but there were plenty of good coaches that could have done well at Illinois, and were available, even today. PJ Fleck, Brock Spack, Al Golden, and several others, and they all would have been interested enough to give Whitman a few moments of their time on a phone call. In the end, Whitman goes with Lovie Smith. Probably the worst option of those available, including keeping Cubit, was hiring an NFL burnout with a mediocre record whose glory days in the state are a thing of distant memory. This is what you get when your new AD is a hire out of a D3 program with little history of football success in an arena where football success is the only real success that anyone gives a damn about. Bill Cubit was always going to be a short timer, but he deserved at least one more year as a reward for being a glutton for punishment.
In the end, the train wreck that is the Illinois athletic department seems alive and well.

No comments:

Post a Comment