With John Groce’s tenure officially ending at Illinois, the Illini will undergo a pivotal coaching search as it tries to return to the top tier of the Big Ten.
Here are seven names to know as Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman pulls out his Rolodex.
Cuonzo Martin, California head coach
Martin has turned Tennessee and California into respectable, NCAA Tournament-caliber programs and should be able to do the same with Illinois, which is in a four-season March Madness drought. He knows the area well, having grown up in Illinois and played basketball at Purdue. He’s also been surprisingly effective on the recruiting trail, pulling 5-star recruits Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb to Berkeley.
Monty Williams, Spurs VP of basketball operations
Monty Williams would have been a good candidate for Illinois. His track record includes experience as an NBA coach, so hiring him would mirror the strategy Illinois took in hiring Lovie Smith. “Would” is the operative word in that sentence, as Williams was reported to have rejected a lucrative bid from Illinois in favor of seeking another NBA gig.
Archie Miller, Dayton head coach
Miller’s name has been thrown out a ton for other vacant coaching spots, but Illinois could be a good fit for the 38-year-old if he’s willing to take over a partial rebuild. He’s been a hot commodity on the coaching market for a reason, as his Flyers are working on their fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance out of the Atlantic 10. However, it is a significant problem that N.C. State (Miller’s alma mater) just fired its coach, Mark Gottfried. If Miller says no to the school where he played, what chance do the Illini have?
Scott Drew, Baylor head coach
College basketball fans can quibble with Drew’s inability to go deep into the NCAA Tournament, but there’s no denying the fact that he has turned what was a moribund Baylor program into a Big 12 power. His Bears are about to reach the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in six years and the seventh time during his tenure. That’s at a program that had reached the tourney just four times in its history before hiring him. Drew might want out of what has become one of the most toxic situations for an athletic department in the country.
Tim Jankovich, SMU head coach
Sticking inside Texas, Jankovich’s Mustangs are 38-4 during his tenure, which began midseason last year. That record is going to make him a hot name on the coaching rumors circuit, but a Big Ten offer might entice him to come back up north. Jankovich coached at Illinois State from 2007-12, so he would be able to hit the ground running on the recruiting trail in an area he knows well.
Dan Muller, Illinois State head coach
Call this the safety pick, but Muller is young at 41, knows the land through his current job and coaches a program that might be about to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years. The Redbirds find themselves squarely on the bubble as a 27-6 mid-major that lost its conference tournament final to Wichita State, which you really can’t hold against them. If Illinois wants to go young and take a risk, there are worse options than Muller.
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State head coach
It’s probably (definitely?) not happening, but it’s at least a phone call Whitman has to make. Marshall is almost certainly waiting for a school like North Carolina or Kansas to open and is already receiving big-tie money in Wichita. But sometimes you’ve just got to take your shot.