CHAMPAIGN, ILL. (AP) - Illinois fired women’s basketball coach Jolette Law on Friday after five seasons without an NCAA tournament bid.
It was the second time athletic director Mike Thomas has fired a head coach since coming to Illinois last summer. Football coach Ron Zook was let go in December, and speculation continues that men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber could be fired at the end of the season, too.
“Really, competitively, we’ve been in the bottom third (of the Big Ten),” said Thomas, who said he told Law in person Friday afternoon. “Really we needed to be at a point where we competed at a higher level.
Thomas said the team should be able to draw more fans. Average attendance has dropped from just under 1,500 a game in 2008 to just over 1,000 a game, according to the NCAA.
“If you have a winning program they will show up,” he said.
“I have found great joy in coaching, teaching and guiding a group of remarkable young women,” Law said. “We have laid a good foundation for great things to happen in the future. I wish nothing but the best for Mr. Thomas, the program, the university and of course my student athletes.”
Thomas said many of the people he’d like to interview are with teams still playing, so he could not put a timetable on when a new coach would be hired. He added that the next coach doesn’t necessarily have to have head-coaching experience.
“We will _ we will _ win a national championship at the University of Illinois,” she said.
Her first team won 20 games and a spot in the 2008 Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Three of the next four seasons ended with losing records, including the 11-19 campaign that ended this week with a 68-53 first-round loss to Michigan at the Big Ten tournament.
Illinois’ NCAA tournament drought goes back to 2003. The Illini haven’t been in the Top 25 since November 2000.
After playing at Iowa, Law also played several seasons as one of the few women to ever suit up for the Harlem Globetrotters.
At Illinois she replaced Theresa Grentz , a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame who coached the Illini to prominence before struggling in her final few seasons.
Thomas fired Zook in November after the Illini football team lost six straight games, a move that cost Illinois a $2.6 million buyout. Zook’s replacement, Tim Beckman, was named less than two weeks later.
Speculation has picked up in recent weeks Weber could be fired at the end of this season after his team has fallen almost entirely out of NCAA tournament contention. Buying out Weber’s contract would cost another $3.9 million.
The athletic director said when he took the job at Illinois he didn’t have any improve-or-else mandates in mind for any of the coaches he would oversee. But few coaches, he said, keep their jobs long term.
“You have a Bobby Bowden for life, you have a Jim Boeheim for life, you have a Pat Summit for life,” Thomas said. “You can kind of count those situations on one hand for sports.”
Follow David Mercer on Twitter: http://twitter.com/DavidMercerAP
'Your papers, please' must never be heard in America
Independent voices from the TWT Communities
Life lessons, adventures, people places and observations as I undertake my personal quest to travel to 100 or more countries before I die.
Finding radiant smiles and dental health with Dr. Ali Forghani
Contributions to the Communities Sports desk from readers.
Empowering mind/body/spirit and health dialogue along with cutting-edge, conscious social, political, and world commentary with Adam Omkara. Join the Evolution!
Benghazi: The anatomy of a scandal
Vietnam Memorial adds four names
Cinco de Mayo on the Mall