Mike Nadel: Bruce-bashers willing to pay; Weber-lovers want coach to stay
For some Illinois fans, booing Bruce Weber at Assembly Hall, cursing him when he's on TV or whining about him in chat rooms isn't enough. At least one man is pledging beaucoups bucks in an effort to get the coach canned.
"The guy is a buffoon and was in over his head the minute he arrived in Champaign," Chicagoan Ryan Christie told me in an e-mail. "Recognize what this guy Weber is: somebody who lucked into a perfect situation, has torn the program apart and now wants sympathy so he can try to rebuild what he has created.
"I've already contacted the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics to let them know I'm happy to put $10K toward a Weber buyout. So I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is, and I know others that are, also."
Responding only by e-mail to this wouldn't do, so on Thursday I called Christie. He was still fired up about the column I had written last week defending Weber's body of work and urging patience in Illini Land.
"I just think we need to cut our losses while we can," he said. "I sent an e-mail with my $10,000 offer to (athletic director) Ron Guenther, who didn't respond. I also sent it to (associate AD) Shawn Wax, who said there was no need for a buyout fund because it's not going to happen."
A lifelong Illini fan who grew up in Chicago and attended Georgetown, the 33-year-old Christie isn't a journalist but did write for Rivals.com and said he had some run-ins with Jay Price and other Weber assistants. He said he used to donate money to the I Fund, "but I won't give another penny as long as Bruce Weber is there."
Christie and other Bruce-bashers might have a long wait. They were counting on Guenther to retire when his contract expires at the end of the year - and for the new AD to dump Weber. But the Champaign News-Gazette reported Thursday that Guenther likely will sign an extension through 2010.
That would be good news for Weber's supporters, and he has plenty despite his team's 9-11 record less than three years after he guided Bill Self's recruits to the 2005 national title game.
Weber is this year's Rex Grossman - the most polarizing sports figure in Illinois. My Jan. 15 column, which appeared in newspapers all around the state, elicited dozens of e-mails, 91 comments on sj-r.com (the Web site for Springfield's State Journal-Register) and seven pages of fan reaction on Illiniboard.com.
Here were some e-mails I received:
"When we hired Weber, we were supposed to be getting a 'great coach.' This current team (and the last couple or three, actually) has developed precious little. Results need to improve, and soon." - Wayne Whitlock, Aurora.
"An outstanding coach and an even better person. Integrity should matter. And I truly believe Weber is turning the recruiting around." - Tim Tarter, Carlinville.
"Not shaking hands with the Indiana assistant coaches and players is inexcusable." - Charlie Pittman, Illinois class of '57.
"I am ashamed of a select few in the Illini Nation. Are we spoiled? You bet. Will we be back on top? No doubt in my mind!" - Rusty Hainds, Oquawka.
"You did a nice job covering both sides of the issue and revealing the hypocrisy of many fans." - Gordon Henderson, Brimfield.
"If we think it's bad this year, next year is going to be worse." - Harley Henson, Springfield.
"Given time, Weber will have Illinois basketball back on track. And he will do it the right way." - Lenny Peterson, Rockford.
Now, a sampling of sj-r.com reader comments (ellipses separate one person's views from the next):
"All Bruce Weber has done was ride on the coattails of Bill Self. ... Leave Bruce alone. Give him two more years and he will land you another BT title. ... Cool, yet another article ripping on fans that don't agree with lowering expectations of a Top 15 all-time program. ...
"These people are not real Illini fans. Help is on the way, great recruits for next three years. ... They have 'verbal commitments'; remember how solid those are. ... Good grief - how many of you have never had a bad year? ... A little pressure is not all bad. I hope he tells us I told you so. That said, I have my doubts. ...
"When the big-money donors get tired of the Randles, the Pruitts, the Fraziers and the talk about the ORAL commitments, there will be a change. ... Not sure what your definition of Big Money donor is, but this donor thinks Bruce is doing just fine. Big-money supporters of this program aren't bandwagon-jumper-on-ers. ...
"Best coach we have had. ... Not a good coach; the coach of the year in 2005 was Deron Williams, not Weber. ... An elite coach and we love him. ... A mid-major coach is turning a major into a mid-major. Go back to SIU. ...
"For once, Nadel has written a really good article worth reading. Maybe there's hope for him yet. ... As usual, Mike Nadel would screw up a two-car funeral. The main concern was making sure that recruiting wouldn't fall off the ledge as poorly as it has. ... Thanks, Mike, for a column that was positive for once and not full of sarcasm. ... I was against Weber as our new head coach from the get-go. I am not a hypocrite and you are offensive!"
Meanwhile, on Illiniboard.com:
"Talk of firing him is exactly what Nadel said it was: a call by those obsessed with instant gratification. Impulse control is a trait that is severely lacking. ... The calls for firing aren't coming from people that want instant gratification but from rational realists that realize the gold mine Illinois could be. ... Truly rational realists should be able to look at this team and realize that, while there are tons of reasons to be upset right now, there are tons of reasons to be optimistic about the future. ...
"I think that Mike Nadel smokes crack. ... This article nearly nails it, and from a guy who rarely nails anything. ... Nadel is proof you don't have to know much about sports to be a sportswriter. ... I'm not a big fan of Nadel, but I thought this was a fair and balanced article. I knew it would push 'The Fellowship of the Hysterical' over the edge. They don't want anybody saying anything nice about Weber. ...
"Bruce Weber will be coaching at Illinois for a long time and will bring the program back to national prominence. ... Next year will be rock bottom. ... Change the things you can, accept the things you cannot change, and develop the wisdom to tell the difference. OK, now continue venting!"
Venting, indeed. I mean, isn't this the best entertainment money can buy? (And it doesn't even cost 10 grand!)
For the emotion he engenders and the debate he spawns, here's hoping Bruce Weber sticks around forever. Or at least for as long as I'm a crack-smoking columnist.
Mike Nadel (email@example.com) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com.