According to multiple reports on Wednesday night, Illinois has officially finalized a deal to hire John Groce as its next men's basketball head coach.
The former Ohio head coach returns to the Big Ten after serving as an assistant coach at Ohio State from 2004-08. Usually when a coach gets hired to lead a new program, his first order of business is to instill confidence in the team's players (to avoid anyone transferring) and to retain potential recruits that have already committed to the school.
However, Groce's first task is this: do whatever it takes to keep assistant coach Jerrance Howard in Champaign.
Howard is Illinois' best recruiting weapon. The fifth-year coach and former Illini point guard is a staple in the Chicago recruiting picture. To be successful at Illinois, the head coach has to be competitive in the Chicago recruiting scene. Bruce Weber failed at doing this, and it was one of the major reasons why he lost his job.
The best weapon that Weber had to land any recruits from the Chicago area was Howard. In the minutes after Groce signed his potential million-dollar deal, he should have been on the phone with Howard trying to persuade him that the two of them could be the coaches that turn around one of the nation's top programs.
With the high school talent in Illinois alone, there is no reason that the Illini should be sweating it out on Selection Sunday every year. Even if Groce doesn't land every single top in-state recruit, there is enough talent for the Illini to be a top 20 team each year.
Howard is the key to obtaining the talent that the Fighting Illini need to annually compete for a Big Ten title and for a spot among the big boys of the college basketball world.
Groce's base salary in his final season at Ohio was $250,000. Illinois football coach Tim Beckman will receive $1.6 million in his first season wearing the orange and blue. If that is any indication, it appears that Groce will receive around $1.2-1.5 million in his first season.
Perhaps Groce should greet Howard with a nice Rolex and a steak dinner when he arrives in Champaign.