Archive for Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Woodling: Self’s successor at Illinois finds things tough

December 17, 2003


Those of us who didn't know Bruce Weber from a formaldehyde salesman are now left to wonder if the Illinois University men's basketball coach has a little bit of Al Bohl coursing through his veins.

Few more bizarre instances have occurred in college athletics than Bohl's "crushed me like a dove" driveway diatribe last April after Bohl had been sacked as Kansas University's athletic director.

Now along comes Weber who wore a black sport coat, black tie, black slacks and, I assume, black shoes to a game last week to proclaim the end of the Bill Self Era at Illinois which, we all thought, had ended last spring when Self replaced Roy Williams at Kansas.

"I told (the players) before the game, it was a funeral,'' Weber said. "It was the end of Bill Self. It's over. There's no more comparing. He's gone. No more talking about it."

Except Weber did talk more about it.

"I'll be honest," he said. "I'm fed up with it."

Well, golly, Bruce, how do you really feel about it?

Weber, who moved upstate from Southern Illinois to take over the Fighting Illini, has clearly had a more difficult time succeeding Self than Self has had in replacing Roy Williams.

Weber was second-guessed after suspending three players, yet nobody at Kansas gave it a second thought after Self suspended returning starter Jeff Graves last week.

The Illini played like dogs in a loss at Providence and at least one Illini fan went on record as saying Self would have won that game by 10 points.

At the same time, the Jayhawks played like dogs in losing to Stanford and nobody around here groused that Williams would have won that game by 10 points.

Self and Weber have at least one common denominator. Neither found the pantry bare in his new kitchen. Otherwise, their personalities are apparently as different as a cucumber and a jalapeño.

How many coaches do you know who, when talking about a contemporary, brag that he "kicked his butt" in a couple of games? Weber did about Self and thus broke Rule No. 1 in the Coaches Code of Ethics. Never, never say anything derogatory about another coach in public.

To his credit, Self has responded to Weber's graceless remarks with a sense of humor and a dose of wit.

"The first thing I did was check the pulse, make sure I was still alive," Self cracked. Later, Self quipped: "My two young children are still trying to get over daddy's funeral."

Moreover, Self said he has nothing against Weber, adding: "I think he's hilarious."

Privately, though, Self surely had to wonder what in the world was going on. Here he had left his successor with a larder full of talent and the guy sounds off like a petulant, whining child while staging, of all things, a mock funeral.

When I read Weber's remarks, I thought the first-year Illinois coach must have been quoted off the record, that a sports writer or sportscaster back in Illinois had burned him. That's happened before. But no, Weber had mentioned the funeral and the butt-kicking to all the beat writers covering the Fighting Illini.

Maybe Weber felt he had to do something drastic in order to assert his control over the program. Or perhaps he simply overreacted to an inevitable situation that would have, in time, cured itself.

In the meantime, Self is not plying the college basketball waters like he is the ancient mariner and Williams is the albatross. You won't see Self carrying a headstone reading: "RIP Roy Williams." Self won't be placing Williams' obituary in the sports pages.

Still, if Kansas should happen to meet Illinois in March in the NCAA Tournament, wouldn't it be a hoot if Self strode into the arena costumed as the grim reaper?

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