No sure thing

No sure thing

The ash heap of history is littered with the carcasses of surefire winning coaches who lost.

Two University of Illinois coaches (men's and women's basketball) were dismissed over the last 10 days. During that period, Indiana fired its men's basketball coach (Tom Crean) while the University of Washington (Lorenzo Romar) did the same. Other coaches across the country also got the ax.

Readers get the picture.

Too many people charged with securing victories for their employers didn't get enough wins fast enough. So they're out, their crash landings cushioned by generous buyouts.

All those schools that did the firings will soon do hirings, and their fans, at least for a while, will be energized by the optimism that comes with being convinced future success is ensured.

But it's important to remember that all the coaches who were fired once generated the same optimism that the hirings of their replacements will generate. Their schools' fans thought they were stupendous until they didn't think they were stupendous anymore.

Hiring a coach who won at one program and will win at the next program is a difficult business.

How many people were convinced, when Illinois hired Groce from Ohio University, that Virginia Commonwealth University coach Shaka Smart, whom former athletic director Mike Thomas could not persuade to come to the UI, would have been a great hire.

But where is Smart now? He left VCU to go to the University of Texas, where glory was seemingly assured. But it hasn't gone so well for Smart. He finished this past season at 11-22, and fans are no longer enthralled. Last week, Smart fired a longtime assistant to appease fans calling for his own dismissal.

Another losing season and Mr. Can't-Miss, Gee-We-Wish-We-Could-Get-Him will be just another guy who fans once thought, mistakenly it turns out, knew something about basketball.

Until recent years, the UI has had one of the best basketball programs in the nation, thanks to consecutive hirings of three of the best basketball coaches in the history of the game (Lou Henson, Lon Kruger and Bill Self) to run the program. Both Bruce Weber and John Groce were thought quite capable of following in their predecessors' path, but it didn't work out.

With Saturday's decision to hire Brad Underwood from Oklahoma State, the UI hopes it has a coach who will return the program to prominence. But it's a dicey business fraught with known and unknown challenges and absolutely no guarantees.

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