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Ohio coach John Groce signals instructions to his team during its NCAA Tournament second-round game against Michigan. After taking the Bobcats to the Sweet 16, Groce, rumor has it, might be in the running for the vacant head-coach position at Illinois. (Brien Vincent | Staff Photographer)

John Groce reportedly a top candidate for Illinois coaching job

Only four days after his team’s season came to an end, Ohio men’s basketball coach John Groce might have a job offer at another school.

Groce is a top candidate for the head coaching position at the University of Illinois, according to reports from the Chicago Sun-Times. Illinois Athletics Director Mike Thomas fired coach Bruce Weber March 9 after the Fighting Illini ended a disappointing season in which they went 6-12 in the Big Ten and 17-15 overall.

Rumors that Groce had flown to Champaign, Ill., to meet with Illinois administrators or to accept the job ran rampant on social-media and fan websites and messages boards Monday; however, neither Ohio or Illinois athletics officials would comment on whether Groce was visiting Illinois or had been offered the gig.

“We’re not issuing any comments on any candidates at this point,” said Kent Brown, assistant athletics director for Athletic Public Relations at Illinois.

Ohio Athletics also declined a request for comment, and Director of Media Relations Drew Wiseman said Groce would not be made available to the media for two weeks.

The Fighting Illini will be looking to fill the coaching void as soon as possible to move on from a difficult few months. The team finished the season 2-12 to fall from first place to ninth in the Big Ten, and two top candidates from mid-major conferences have already turned down the job.

Weber made $1.5 million a year, and given the difficulty the university has had replacing him, the next coach for the Fighting Illini might make more than that.

Groce makes $300,000 a year in addition to any bonuses he earns for his team’s performance. This year, Groce made $55,000 in bonuses for finishing the year with a winning Mid-American Conference record, winning the MAC Tournament, winning two games in the NCAA Tournament and advancing to the Sweet 16, according to his contract, which The Post obtained via public-records request.

Under Groce’s direction, the Bobcats went 29-8 this year to break the school’s single-season wins record. Ohio took top-seeded North Carolina to overtime in a Sweet 16 matchup, beat Michigan and South Florida, and almost upset No. 4 Louisville on its home court.

Groce has Big Ten ties from working as an assistant coach for Thad Matta at Ohio State. He also served on Matta’s staff at Butler and Xavier. Butler coach Brad Stevens and Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart have both turned down offers to coach Illinois at the tune of about $2.5 million a year.

Butler played in the 2010 and 2011 national championship games, and VCU went from the First Four to the Final Four in 2011 before losing to Stevens’ squad.

Stevens signed a 12-year contract extension in 2010, and Smart agreed to an 8-year extension with the Rams after last year’s postseason run. Groce signed a two-year extension after the 2009–10 season that keeps him under contract through the 2014–15 season.

If Groce were to leave the Bobcats, he would owe the university $200,000 in liquidated damages, according to his contract. He has posted an 85-56 record through four seasons with the Bobcats, good for the second-highest winning percentage among coaches who have led Ohio for more than two seasons.

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