Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman fired former Illinois Basketball head coach John Groce on Saturday March 11, 2017. One week later, Whitman hired former Oklahoma State head coach Brad Underwood as the new head coach for Illinois Basketball.
Underwood was on a five-year contract at Oklahoma State and was paid approximately $1 million per year. Illinois has hired Underwood for six years and will pay him approximately $3 million per year. Illinois will also pay $3 million to Oklahoma State to buyout Underwood’s contract from them.
Underwood has been a head coach for four seasons. His first three seasons were at Stephen F. Austin, where he led the team to an NCAA Tournament appearance every year. In 2016 he was hired by Oklahoma State. In the 2015-2016 season, Oklahoma State was 12-20. This past season, Underwood’s first year as head coach at Oklahoma State, they were 20-13 and made an NCAA Tournament appearance. As there wasn’t a drastic roster change between the previous season and this past season, the increased success is attributed to Underwood’s coaching. Underwood emphasizes a fast-paced offense that spreads the floor. It is often successful with three guards on the floor at once, which Illinois will be able to do based on their current and future roster.
Expectations & Tasks
Since Underwood has made the NCAA Tournament every year as head coach, the expectation is that he will be able to continue that at Illinois. This may be challenging to do in his first season at Illinois as there will be five scholarship players leaving, resulting in next year being a developing year. One of Underwood’s first tasks will be to make sure that current players don’t transfer out and that the incoming recruits stay committed. In addition, Underwood needs to pursue 2017 uncommitted Combo-Guard Mark Smith from Edwardsville High School. He also needs to begin to develop recruiting relationships with potential 2018 recruits. Further, he will need to fill out his coaching staff, with Interim Head Coach Jamaal Walker being retained.
Underwood is a good hire for Illinois Basketball. He is a proven winner and will have the opportunity to turn around the program. Underwood has his work cut out for him regarding recruitment, the coaching staff, and implementing his system with the roster. He may struggle in his first season; however, I have high expectations for the 2018-19 season as players will have had the time to adjust to his coaching style and will have developed chemistry and overall skill-set by then.