Underwood: 'We're going to win'
CHAMPAIGN — All three of Brad Underwood’s children were born in Illinois during his decade as an assistant coach at Western Illinois University.
His son Tyler’s first basketball jersey was that of formerIllini standout Brian Cook — a story Underwood said he likes to tells all the time.
Underwood now makes his return to Illinois, hired as the 18th coach in Illini basketball program history on Saturday.
“I’ve got tremendous love for the state of Illinois and for this program,” Underwood said late Saturday afternoon after arriving in Champaign from Stillwater, Okla. “Having spent 10 years (in Illinois), I got a true appreciation for how great this program is and how important basketball is.”
Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman had his first in-person meeting with Underwood on Saturday morning. Mere hours later he was officially making his third coaching hire in just more than a year on the job, hiring Underwood away from Oklahoma State.
“It’s been a pretty wild few days,” Whitman said. “We had our first in person conversation this morning. Things have happened pretty quickly. It’s all unfolded in a hurry. I can’t be appreciative enough for Brad and his family for trusting us and choosing to take this step with us.”
Full contract details have not been finalized, but according to a source close to the program Underwood will receive a six-year contract valued at more than $3 million per season.
Underwood made $1 million this season at Oklahoma State, part of a five-year contract worth $6.3 million
Underwood spent just this past season at Oklahoma State and guided the Cowboys to an eight-win improvement to go along with NCAA tournament berth.
Oklahoma State lost in the first round to Michigan on Friday in Indianapolis.
“I think there’s not many places I would do that for,” Underwood said. “For this one? Absolutely, and not many other places I would even consider that for. The Big Ten is a special conference, Illinois basketball is special and the timing was absolutely perfect.”
Whitman said several factors played into his decision.
Underwood’s proven track record as a coach — he’s 109-27 in four seasons as a head coach — played a role. So did Underwood’s appreciation for Illinois basketball, how he relates to his players and the style of play his teams utilize.
“You watch a team of his play for just five minutes and you understand the tenacity that they have, the speed at which they play, the intensity (and) the toughness that they show,” Whitman said. “Envisioning that team on our floor got me really excited. The things that he’s done both at his time at (Stephen F. Austin) and now at Oklahoma State, it just pops off the page. You look at the improvement his teams have made during his tenure, and it’s nothing short of remarkable.”
Before his lone season at Oklahoma State, Underwood compiled an 89-14 record at Stephen F. Austin and lost just one game in Southland Conference action in his first head coaching job.
He was an assistant at South Carolina, Kansas State (his alma mater) and Western Illinois with two brief additional stints as a junior college coach.
Now, Underwood will try to maintain his level of success at a third school in three years.
“We’re going to win,” he said. “Illinois basketball is special. It’s one of the elite programs in the country. I have so much respect for the high school coaches in this state. I have so much respeect for the fan base. I’ve been in that arena when it’s packed. We deserve to be great.”