Despite reports that Ohio men’s basketball coach John Groce had reached a “done deal” with the University of Illinois, Fighting Illini officials insist they have yet to fill their coaching vacancy.
Groce led the Bobcats to a 29-8 record and the Sweet 16 during the 2011–12 season and is believed to be the top candidate for the Illinois job after Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart and Butler’s Brad Stevens declined the position.
Tuesday brought rumors that the university would hold a news conference during the afternoon, but Kent Brown, the assistant athletics director for Athletic Public Relations, said Illinois never planned one.
“No selection has been made, no decision has been made regarding the coach as of this afternoon,” university spokesman Tom Hardy said Tuesday night.
At one point Tuesday, a flight out of Illinois’ Willard Airport was due to land at OU’s Gordon K. Bush Airport at 3 p.m., but that flight was later canceled.
Later, suspicion arose that the University of Illinois Board of Trustees was holding up a potential agreement between Groce and Illinois’ athletic department. Two board members refused to vote on the contract of newly hired football coach Tim Beckman because they felt that the athletic department did not adequately pursue minority candidates for that position.
But Hardy said no board members had raised concerns about race in regard to the search for the next Fighting Illini men’s basketball coach.
“The athletic director has basically informed, communicated with the trustees early on about the nature of the search,” Hardy said. “They expressed their satisfaction with that.”
Amid all of the questions about Groce’s status moving forward, one of his former players said the team has few answers of its own.
“They’re basically wondering like everybody else,” former Bobcat forward TyQuane Goard said. “Only John Groce knows.”
Goard was a freshman on the team but missed the Mid-American Conference and NCAA tournaments for what Director of Media Relations Drew Wiseman said were “academic reasons.”
Goard was later dismissed from the team, but he said he is still confused about the circumstances of his departure.
“The coaching staff decided to release me but never gave me a reason,” he said. “Coach Groce said it was because of academics, but I have a 2.6 GPA. I’m still waiting on a reason.”
Ohio Athletics declined to comment on the situation.
Goard said he has decided to transfer to the University of Delaware, where he will play for the Blue Hens. Delaware had offered Goard a scholarship before he committed to Ohio.
“They’ve recruited me since seventh or eighth grade,” he said. “I have a health condition, but they still wanted me, so that was a big factor in my decision.”
Goard averaged 1.7 points and 1.5 rebounds in 29 games this season.