Weber hopes to finish career at Illinois
Illinois coach Bruce Weber said Friday that he hopes to finish his career with the Illini after a week that saw him criticize both himself and his players before apologizing for being frustrated.
The ninth-year head coach said his players took the right message away from his harsh critique: They need to play tougher.
”I love Illinois, I’ve said it many times,” Weber said. ”I love to be the coach here. I want to finish my career here.
”Do I want to do better? No doubt,” he added. ”And that’s my disappointment and frustration, because I know I’m a good coach, and I’ve done it for a long time.”
After a 67-62 home loss Wednesday to Purdue, Weber said in an emotional news conference that he’d failed the past few years to create a culture of toughness at Illinois, choosing to play to win every game because he was coaching under high pressure rather than, in some cases, sending a key player to the bench to deliver a message and risk losing.
Weber declined Friday to say whether he’d considered resigning.
”That’s not even a question I’ll address, to be honest,” he said. ”What has happened? We’re 16 and 10, we’re still in the NCAA field.”
The Illini (16-10, 5-8 Big Ten) have lost seven of eight. Some prognosticators, though, still consider them a likely NCAA Tournament team because of wins over Michigan State and Ohio State.
Athletic director Mike Thomas has said he’ll evaluate Weber’s performance after the season, but has said he believes Illinois to do more than just make the tournament.
Weber said his players told him after practice Thursday that they understood what he was saying.
”They said that we need to be tougher, and I said that’s exactly right,” Weber said.
Illinois players weren’t available to the media Friday. Assistant sports information director Derrick Burson said the team planned to fly to Nebraska that afternoon to prepare for Saturday’s game against the Cornhuskers (11-13, 3-10).
Weber added that, while some Illinois fans are probably too disappointed for him to win back, he believes many are still behind him and his team.
Fans cheered him at a high school game he went to last weekend in Springfield and he signed numerous autographs afterward, Weber said. And virtually all of the emails he’s received since the Purdue loss have been supportive, the coach added.
”We’ve lost people – when you don’t win and compete for championships every year, you’re going to lose some of the fans,” he said. ”(But) we still have a great fan base.”
After facing the Cornhuskers, Illinois will have four regular-season games left, with three against ranked teams: at No. 6 Ohio State and No. 15 Wisconsin, and at home against Iowa and No. 17 Michigan.
”Now all we can do is focus on Nebraska and finding a way to get a win,” Weber said. ”I think our kids have kept a great spirit. A lot of times kids have better resolve than fans and coaches and adults and people around the program.”