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Groce played college basketball at tiny Taylor University, an NAIA Division II school in Upland, Ind., before making the rounds as an assistant coach and then landing the Ohio job. His last team was his best.

The Bobcats finished this season 29-8. As 13 seed, Ohio knocked off Michigan and South Florida before taking North Carolina to overtime, finally losing to the top-seeded Tar Heels 73-65.

Ohio fans this week started an online petition to try to keep Groce, and school administrators said they were trying to raise money to increase his pay and keep him at Ohio. Groce is being paid $355,000 this year, according to the school, including bonuses.

He comes to Illinois during a difficult period for the school.

Weber was only one of three high-profile coaches on campus fired over the past four months. Football coach Ron Zook lost his job late last year and women’s basketball coach Jolette Law was fired this spring.

When Thomas hired Tim Beckman to replace Zook, two university trustees declined to vote in favor of a contract for the new football coach because the school has never had a black head football or basketball coach. The trustees, Lawrence Oliver III and James Montgomery, are both black but have since said they could support a white head basketball coach as long as they believed the hitting process gave black coaches a fair chance.

Then, last week, university President Michael Hogan resigned under pressure after lengthy, well-publicized tensions with faculty over his management style and some policies he favored.

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Follow David Mercer on Twitter: http://twitter.com/DavidMercerAP