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Reports: Illinois offers Groce $1.2M deal

Even as Chicago media declare a deal to make John Groce the next head coach of the University of Illinois nearly finalized, Ohio University officials are trying to find a way to keep him in Athens.

Illinois fired its men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber on March 9 after nine seasons with the school. Weber made $1.5 million a year.

Illinois offered salaries of about $2.5 million to Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart and to Butler’s Brad Stevens, but both turned down the head-coaching position. Groce then became their primary target. 

A late breaking story from the Chicago Tribune reported that Illinois has offered Groce a five- to six-year contract, worth $1.2 million a year. Groce reportedly has requested an eight-year, $11 million total contract. Ohio Athletics said Wednesday night that it could neither confirm nor deny those figures or that a deal was on  the table.

The Chicago Sun-Times cited sources declaring it a “done deal.”

Either way, OU isn’t ready to give up its coach without a fight.

OU President Roderick McDavis has personally led the charge to reach out to athletic donors and university alumni in search of funds to up Groce’s salary, said Becky Watts, the president’s chief of staff.

“The president has been actively involved in reaching out to alumni and friends of the university,” Watts said.

Groce makes $300,000 a year at Ohio and made an additional $55,000 in bonuses this season as his team made its way to the Sweet 16. He trails only McDavis and head football coach Frank Solich for annual income among university employees. Vice President for Finance and Administration Stephen Golding also makes $300,000 a year.

A potential bidding war for Groce, whose recent successes have thrust him into the national spotlight and consideration for coaching vacancies, comes at a time when OU is looking to cut costs. 

University budget planners project a $5 million shortfall next year and have proposed a 3.5 percent tuition increase.

Coaches’ salaries are included in the Ohio Athletics budget, which comes from a variety of revenue sources. Roughly 75 percent of Athletics’ budget is subsidized through student-fee money and state funding, while the remaining 25 percent is covered through departmental revenue and fundraising. 

Groce’s bonuses come from an allotment in the athletic budget for performance incentives, Director of Athletics Jim Schaus said in January.

“They budget for all bonuses that are included within their coaches contracts,” he said after Solich earned $144,500 in bonuses during the football season. “If the coach doesn’t meet whatever the benchmark or the target is for that, then that would be budget surplus.”

Groce is under contract with the Bobcats through the 2014–15 season. If Groce is offered a pay raise, the university likely would have to guarantee that amount for at least the duration of his current contract.

Athletic department officials said Monday that Groce will not be available to the media for at least two weeks.

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