Bruce Weber: History, Reactions, Updates, Etc.

2 Apr

About a dozen students gathered on the lawn of Bramlage Coliseum on Saturday afternoon to protest Kansas State’s hiring of Bruce Weber as the next head basketball coach.

One student held a sign that read, “Why you do hate us John Currie?”

Others sported purple headbands inscribed, “Gott Lieb?” – an endorsement of ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb as a candidate and a play on the popular “Got Milk?” advertising campaign. Gottlieb, a former Oklahoma State basketball player, expressed interest in the head coaching position to newspapers and radio stations, and even though he has no coaching experience, his thorough plan and salesmanship intrigued fans.

Not shockingly, the administration hired someone with more of a history: Weber, a smiling, gray-haired gentleman many remember for taking Illinois to the national championship in 2005 but whose most recent team finished with just six wins in the Big 10 this season. Which type of results will Weber produce for the Wildcats is an intriguing question.

***

The initial response from fans has not been particularly optimistic, but few people could have replaced as popular and successful a coach as Frank Martin – and most of those coaches show no signs of being available for hire.

Weber is not daunted, however. His priority is winning over the players. He spoke with both 1350AM in Manhattan and 810 WHB in Kansas City about building relationships with one set of people whose opinions matter most.

“The big key is that I get them to trust me and respect me and buy into it,” Weber said. “If you can get your best player to buy in and be your best leader and hardest worker, it makes it so much easier for you as a coach.”

After talking to next year’s seniors Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez, Weber also had conversations with this season’s freshmen. He noted the importance of Angel Rodriguez, who played point guard for Kansas State much of last season. With such conversations, the coach said he makes his pitch but does not press for a commitment.

“I don’t bring it up, to be honest,” Weber said. “I just say, ‘This is what we’re about. We want you here.’”

At this point, he believes all the players will stay. He has done individual workouts with everyone except McGruder and Rodriguez, who will be unable to practice for two to three weeks because of injuries. Because getting to know players is one of Weber’s top priorities, changing public perception is on the back burner.

“I realize I can’t win all the fans over,” Weber said. “I have to do it with a good product, and that starts with the players. That’s the most important thing.”

Asked about previous problems within the program under Martin, Weber responded with the proper amount of ambiguity and proceeded to compliment his predecessor.

“He did them his way – sometimes it isn’t always the most positive thing,” he said. “He created a culture of toughness and defense, and hopefully we can play off that.”

***

The other priority of Weber in this time is putting together a coaching staff. Weber said he invited Martin’s associate head coach Brad Underwood to stay at Kansas State as part of the new staff, but Underwood told him Saturday morning that he thought he would be going with Martin to South Carolina. Weber said Underwood gave him insight regarding the program and the players, and Weber left the door open in case Underwood had a change of heart.

Weber has said he is working to finalize a deal with Chris Lowery, who coached under Weber at Southern Illinois and followed him to Illinois before returning to become the head coach for Southern Illinois, where he led the program for eight seasons before being fired after the Salukis went 8-23 in 2011-12.

***

Weber has been in the business for 33 years. His first gig as an assistant, at Western Kentucky, came in 1979-80. For the next 18 seasons he worked as an assistant at Purdue.

In Weber’s first year as a head coach at Southern Illinois, the team went 15-12 and tied for a fifth-place conference finish. In his fifth and final season there, Weber guided the team to a 24-7 record and first-place finish in its league.

Replacing Bill Self at Illinois, Weber coached nine seasons there. In seven of those, the team won at least 20 games.

The Fighting Illini struggled in 2011-2012, going 17-15 and 6-12 in league play to finish tied for ninth in the conference. Weber cited the team’s youth (six freshman, one returning starter) as well as changes in the administration (new university president, new athletic director) as potential reasons for the season that was his second-worst in nine years at Illinois and resulted in the termination of his contract there.

“It’s a humbling experience,” Weber said. “You learn a lot about yourself, and you learn a lot about who your friends are. So many people have reached out to myself and my wife … and just said how much they appreciate and respect and believe in what [we’ve] done.”

As for what he learned from his time at Illinois – and presumably this last season in particular – Weber said that trying to please everybody is impossible, so there is only one manner in which to proceed.

“Do it your way,” Weber said. “And that’s what we’ll try to do.”

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4 Responses to “Bruce Weber: History, Reactions, Updates, Etc.”

  1. Tom Wells (@tom_wells) April 2, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    Thanks Ashley for your continued great coverage of Weber and the Wildcats! Keep it coming!!

    • Ashley Dunkak April 2, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

      Thanks Tom!

  2. Kirk Schulz April 2, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    As usual, great job. I appreciate your professionalism and balance.

    • Ashley Dunkak April 2, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

      Thank you so much. I’m glad you liked it. Have a great week!

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