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The Early Lead
Posted at 11:54 AM ET, 03/09/2012

Bruce Weber fired at Illinois after Big Ten tournament loss


Bruce Weber’s Illinois team started 15-3 this season, but lost 12 of its final 14 games. (Andy Lyons - GETTY IMAGES)
Bruce Weber led Illinois to the brink of a national championship during his second season as head coach, but it appears his days in Champaign, Ill., are over. Weber has been fired after nine seasons with the Fighting Illini, the school announced Friday.

Weber never could equal the success he had back in 2005, when guards Deron Williams and Dee Brown led Illinois to the national championship game. The Illini lost to North Carolina that year, but the future seemed bright.

Since that defeat, Weber has won just two NCAA tournament games, including last year when Illinois advanced to the second round. In all, Weber took the Illini to the NCAA tournament six times during his nine seasons there and finished with a career record of 210-101.

But after starting this season 15-3 with wins over Ohio State, Gonzaga and Maryland, Illinois lost 12 of its final 14 games, culminating in a 64-61 loss to Iowa on Thursday during the opening round of the Big Ten tournament.

ESPN reported Friday that VCU Coach Shaka Smart is the No. 1 target for Illinois. Athletic Director Mike Thomas was at Akron when Smart was an assistant coach there. After leading the Rams to the Final Four last year, Smart turned down overtures from North Carolina State and instead signed an eight-year extension with VCU, which he again led to the NCAA tournament this season.

Whether he stays in Richmond again if Illinois comes calling remains to be seen, but Smart does seem to have the dynamic personality necessary to recruit the rich Chicagoland recruiting territories that have traditionally been the key to success for the Illini.

Other potential replacements include Butler’s Brad Stevens and Duke assistant Chris Collins. Weber, meanwhile, could be headed back to Southern Illinois, the school he left when he took the Illinois job back in 2003. The Salukis fired Coach Chris Lowery last week.

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By Mark Giannotto  |  11:54 AM ET, 03/09/2012

 
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