Remember back in late November, when the Illinois Fighting Illini had just lost to Northwestern to wrap up a 5-7 season, and the school announced it had signed interim coach Bill Cubit to a two-year, $2.4 million deal? At that time—right after they’d hired him!—interim AD Paul Kowalczyk told reporters that hiring Cubit was “not ideal,” and apparently, his full-time replacement Josh Whitman agrees. Today is Whitman’s first full day on the job, and he wasted no time in firing Cubit.
Illinois’ spring practices were scheduled to begin next week, but now they’re delayed until the school can hire a new coach. In a statement, Whitman praised Cubit, but stressed the need for long-term stability:
At this juncture, however, I think it is most important that we position our program for long-term success by creating a more stable environment for the coaches, players, and prospective student-athletes.
If Cubit wasn’t the right coach for the job, they shouldn’t have hired him on full-time in the first place. That bumble isn’t really Whitman’s fault, since the school authorized its interim AD to make a coaching hire before the school had figured out who would run its athletic department. That sort of ass-backwards hiring process has failed over and over again in college and professional sports.
The only reason I can see the school panicking and hiring Cubit back if they weren’t sure they wanted him long-term is recruiting. Illinois brought in a top-50 recruiting class this year, which is not bad for a 5-7 team who’s second best in their own state. Unfortunately, those athletes will now never get to play for the coach that brought them in.
If Whitman was always going to fire him, it makes sense for him to act quickly. If Cubit was replaced during the preseason, that would have set Illinois’ preparations back further than they already will be in their current situation. Better to start a week late than to have to learn two entire schemes in a summer.
As for Cubit, he’ll pocket a cool $985,000, per the Chicago Tribune. Not bad for four months of offseason chilling.
Update: It looks like they have a very good replacement lined up already. Not bad for a first day on the job!