Nancy Fahey New Illini Women's Coach
Lori Kerans, Millikin University's women's head coach, had these thoughts after being asked about Nancy Fahey, Washington University of St. Louis women's head coach, who has been named head coach of the University of Illinois women's Fighting Illini.
"I am super excited for the University of Illinois women's basketball program. Nancy Fahey is a phenomenal coach and mentor of student-athletes. Coach Fahey is a proven winner, with the experience, enthusiasm, recruiting, and teaching abilities to be successful at ANY (caps are Lori's for added emphasis) level. Coach Fahey is a tireless worker, one of the most thorough and organized coaches in the field, and has a national recruiting reach.
"Illini Nation is in good hands with Nancy Fahey at the helm of the women's basketball program," concluded Coach Kerans about her colleague who had numerous memorable battles against each other.
I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.
Brad Underwood Named Illinois Basketball Coach
Oklahoma State's Brad Underwood this afternoon (Saturday) was named head coach of Illinois' men's basketball team by director of athletics Josh Whitman.
"I am excited to welcome Brad Underwood, his wife Susan, and their three children to the Fighting Illini family," Whitman said. "In searching for a new coach, we were looking for a proven winner who would build upon our proud tradition while developing an unmistakable identity for Illinois Basketball. Brad's teams play a fast, aggressive style and show unyielding toughness. They have a tremendous energy that I believe will ignite the Orange Krush and our fans to once again make State Farm Center one of the most intimidating venues in all of college basketball. Off the court, Brad builds strong, personal relationships with his student-athletes. His winning combination of strong Midwest values and tenacious work ethic are a perfect fit for our community and the Illini Nation."
"Coach Brad Underwood is committed to the holistic development of young men as students, athletes, and citizens," Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones said. "Please join me in welcoming Brad and the Underwood family to Champaign-Urbana and the University of Illinois. Together, under his leadership, we have a championship future."
Underwood arrives at Illinois from Oklahoma State, where he led OSU to a 20-win season and NCAA Tournament appearance. The Cowboys had one of the most exciting and prolific offenses in the country, standing eighth in the NCAA in scoring (85.7 points per game) and leading the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency in the current kenpom rankings. The Cowboys ranked eighth nationally in 3-point field goal percentage (.402) and fourth in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (.383).
Oklahoma State finished fifth in the Big 12 with a 9-9 conference record in a season where the Big 12 was rated as the best conference in the nation. That was a dramatic improvement for the Cowboys, who went 3-15 in league play a year ago. Oklahoma State came on strong during the second half of the season, winning 10 of 11 games from Jan. 21-Feb. 25, which included a pair of five-game winning streaks.
"Coaching basketball at the University of Illinois is a once-in-lifetime opportunity," Underwood said. "The players, fans and administration at Oklahoma State have been absolutely incredible, and I want to thank them for the support they've given me and my family over the last year. However, during my time at Western Illinois, I always saw the Illinois coaching job as one of the truly best in the nation. I want to thank Josh Whitman for the opportunity to join the Fighting Illini family and look forward to working with him to build a championship program. I can't wait to get started with our team. Next season can't get here fast enough for me!"
Underwood arrived in Stillwater following a dominant run at Stephen F. Austin where he led the Lumberjacks to Southland Conference regular season and tournament titles in each of his three seasons. Underwood compiled an 89-14 record at SFA, tied with Brad Stevens (Butler, 2008-10) for the most wins by a head coach in his first three seasons at an NCAA school.
He led SFA to a 28-6 overall record and NCAA Round of 32 appearance in 2016. The Lumberjacks rolled past No. 3 West Virginia in the first round, 70-56, before narrowly missing a trip to the Sweet 16 with a 76-75 defeat to No. 6 Notre Dame in the second round.
That Stephen F. Austin squad was efficient on both sides of the ball, ranking 57th nationally on offense and 38th on defense. The Lumberjacks averaged 80.2 points accompanied by high-pressure defense that forced the highest turnover rate in the country (.259).
Underwood's second SFA team went 29-5 in 2015, also advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The Lumberjacks ranked seventh in the nation in field goal percentage (.487) and led the NCAA in assists (18.7 apg).
His debut season in Nacogdoches in 2014 included a 29-game winning streak and culminated in a 32-3 record and NCAA Round of 32 appearance after a victory over No. 5 seed VCU in the opening round. Underwood earned the Joe B. Hall award, given to the nation's top first-year coach.
Prior to taking over at Stephen F. Austin, Underwood served the 2013 season as associate head coach at South Carolina under Frank Martin. He went to Columbia with Martin after serving on his bench for five seasons as an assistant at Kansas State, with his final season elevated to associate head coach. Underwood spent his first year at K-State in the role of director of operations for then-head coach Bob Huggins.
Underwood has had two head coaching stints in the junior college ranks, compiling a 70-24 record at Daytona Beach (2003-06) and a 62-60 mark at Dodge City (1988-92). In between those opportunities, Underwood was entrenched in the state of Illinois for 10 seasons, as an assistant coach for Jim Kerwin at Western Illinois from 1992-2003.
Underwood is a 1986 graduate of Kansas State. He played for the legendary Jack Hartman, K-State's all-time winningest coach. Former Illinois head coach Lon Kruger also played and coached for Hartman at Kansas State. Underwood began his college career at Hardin-Simmons, where he later entered the coaching ranks as a graduate assistant. Hardin-Simmons was the first college job for Lou Henson, the Fighting Illini's all-time winningest coach, and whose name permanently adorns the court at State Farm Center.
I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.
Mac on Sports
Mount Zion Community, Monmouth College
Mourn Ray's Passing
Mount Zion lost one of its all-time best football rushers and Monmouth College lost one of its better track and field and football student-athletes with the tragic passing Saturday of Austin Ray in a motorcycle accident.
Monmouth athletic officials released this statement this afternoon (Sunday), "The Monmouth College community is deeply saddened by the loss of a member of the Fighting Scots’ track and field and conference championship football teams.
"Austin Ray, a junior running back and return specialist for the Scots last fall, died early Saturday morning as the result of injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident near his home in Mount Zion. Also a member of the Fighting Scots’ track and field team as a freshman and sophomore, Ray helped the Scots to three Midwest Conference track titles and was a member of the 2015 outdoor championship 4x100 relay team.
Ray used his track speed to his advantage for Chad Braun’s championship football team.
“Austin was the leader of our special team’s unit,” said Braun. “He did it all. Returned kicks, blocked punts and wreaked havoc for the opposing team on our kickoff unit. He would have been a starting running back on any other team. He was behind two great backs and found other ways to contribute to the team.”
The son of Valerie Bennett and Kevin Ray, Austin was working toward a degree in wellness administration at Monmouth.
“Any loss of life is tragic, but especially so for one as young as Austin,” said college president Dr. Clarence R. Wyatt. “At times such as these, we realize even more the depth of feeling and mutual support that comes with being a member of the Monmouth College family. Lobie and I join each of you in holding Austin’s family and friends in our thoughts and prayers.”
His former coach at Mount Zion, Mike Popovich, wrote, "The only thing more electric than his speed, was his smile. That could light up an entire room, and it is something that I will never. He was incredibly humble which was refreshing considering the way a lot of star athletes carry themselves.
"He was a legend in those hallways, but you would never have guessed that with how he treated everyone one else. This world would be a lot better of a place if everyone was as easygoing as Austin was.
"I once watched this young man rush for 240 yards and six touchdowns all while vomiting on himself before, during and after the play. The kid never asked to come out, he was a warrior," concluded Popovich.
That he was. Rest in peace #36.
The Mount Zion community and Monmouth College mourns your tragic passing.
Mac on Sports
Illinois Basketball Coach John Groce Is Fired
John Groce has been fired as Illinois' men's basketball head coach
Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman announced Saturday afternoon that Groce has been relieved of his duties as head men’s basketball coach effective immediately.
Groce averaged 19 wins per year during his five seasons at Illinois, compiling a 95-75 record overall and 37-53 in Big Ten play. He led the Fighting Illini to 23 wins and an NCAA Tournament Round of 32 appearance in his inaugural season in 2013, followed by consecutive NIT bids in 2014 and 2015. He is 180-131 in nine seasons as a head coach, following an 85-56 record in four years at Ohio.
“I want to thank John Groce and his staff for their tireless efforts over these past five years,” Whitman said. “In many ways, John is a model leader. He exudes optimism and tackles every day with unbelievable energy. He has the highest integrity. He has been an active presence in our community and a strong public ambassador for Illinois Basketball. Most importantly, he loves his players unconditionally and helps them develop into young men prepared for the next stages of their lives. Our student-athletes are having a positive experience, achieving record heights in the classroom, and leaving campus as proud graduates with bright futures.
“Under his leadership, regrettably, we were not able to sustain the level of competitive excellence that we expect at the University of Illinois,” Whitman continued. “But that should do nothing to detract from the many wonderful things John has done on behalf of Illinois Basketball during his tenure. We wish John, Allison, and their three children nothing but the best, and we thank his staff and their families as well for their many contributions to our program. All will be missed.”
A national search for the next head coach will begin immediately. In the meantime, assistant coach Jamall Walker has been elevated to the role of interim head coach.
Groce has two years remaining on his contract and will receive the balance of payment due, approximately $1.7 million.
I will have more on this developing story in my Irish Stew in the March 15 edition of the Decatur Tribune.
J. Thomas McNamara
Email Tom at JThomasMc@aol.com
Check out McNamara's "Irish Stew" every week in the print edition of the Decatur Tribune.
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MAC ON SPORTS