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Illini coach was a bit too honest

February 18, 2012

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Fed up with comparisons early in his first season, Illinois coach Bruce Weber showed up for a December 2003 news conference dressed in black to stage a mock funeral to mark the end of the Bill Self era.

I wonder if Weber still owns the suit.

He could wear it for today’s game after effectively pronouncing his Illinois program dead sometime around 10 p.m. Wednesday.

After Illinois lost to Purdue, 67-62, Weber supported the worst criticism of him by admitting he hadn’t created a disciplined, structured environment for players to develop championship habits. Potential Illinois recruits, cover your ears.

“The last three years all I did was worry about winning instead of developing a culture and toughness,” Weber said.

Worse, Weber openly blamed players — faulting Meyers Leonard’s effort and Brandon Paul’s shot selection on a final three-point attempt.

“I don’t know what he was thinking, to be honest,” Weber said.

Honestly, what was Weber thinking?

On a roll, Weber also regretted not benching Leonard and Paul in January and complained his players “don’t have great basketball savvy.”

The same could be said for Weber’s PR sense. One of the Big Ten’s most sincere, likable coaches made a bad situation worse by simply being too honest for his own good.

“With my analyst hat on, I understand the accumulation of years of frustration,” said ESPN commentator Steve Bardo, a former Illini guard. “But from an alum and ex-player point of view, I was disappointed to hear his resignation of the situation with so much basketball left. It was startling.”

It was the wrong way to influence athletic director Mike Thomas, who recently passed on opportunities to endorse Weber.

Forget whether Weber was right about Illinois’ shortcomings in his de facto concession speech. Weber wasn’t an NBA coach criticizing millionaires. He represented Illinois like a bad loser pointing fingers at amateurs who, by Weber’s own account, don’t know how to reach deep for something extra because their coach never forced them.

The irony: Now the Illini need a hot streak to make the NCAA field and save Weber’s job. Yet with three ranked teams among their final five regular-season opponents, they have little chance without both players Weber just chastised publicly elevating their games.

Imagine how awkward Weber’s comments made Thursday’s practice.

Weber can be proud of what Illinois accomplished in nine seasons. But sometimes change benefits everybody, even the best of men.

The next time Weber chooses to bear his soul, I won’t be surprised if he agrees.

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