News Local/State

Cubit Out As Illini Football Coach; Groce To Stay As Men’s Basketball Coach

Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman answering questions in a news conference.

Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman announces the firing of football coach Bill Cubit on Saturday March 5. Brian Moline/Illinois Public Media

New University of Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman Saturday fired head football coach Bill Cubit. Cubit served as interim head coach for one season. The decision came on Whitman's first official day on the job.

In a Saturday afternoon news conference, Whitman thanked Cubit for his service to the program during a "tumultuous few months." 

Bill Cubit was fired as Illinois football coach after compiling a 5-7 record in 2015 as the interim head coach.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

"This is not a decision we make lightly," Whitman said.  "The decision to change football staffs has broader implications than just about anything else.  We all understand the challenges that coach Cubit's situation presented, but allowing him to continue in that situation, as tenuous as it was, wasn't the most productive way to use the next 9, 10 months."

Cubit told The Associated Press on Saturday he was stunned by the news. He was hired as the permanent head coach in November and received a two-year contract. Cubit says Whitman didn't provide a specific reason for the decision. The Illini finished 5-7 last season under Cubit. 

Former Athletic Director Mike Thomas named Cubit interim head coach after Thomas fired former coach Tim Beckman. Thomas was also let go after an investigation into allegations of player abuse and medical mistreatment in football and other sports.

Cubit's son, offensive coordinator Ryan Cubit, was also fired effective immediately.  In the release, Whitman said that all other assistant coaches will have the opportunity to interview for a position under the new head coach, once that person has been hired.

Whitman met with players Saturday, and spring football practice will be delayed until a new coach is hired.

Kent Brown, Associate Athletics Director for Media Relations, said in the news release that Cubit will be paid the roughly $985,000 he's owed for the next season unless that contract can be renegotiated.

Whitman said that he will hire a new coach as soon as possible, but could not give a definitive timeline, saying he wasn't yet fully familiar with all university hiring guidelines.

Fox Sports and Sports Illustrated, among other sources, are reporting that former Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Coach Lovie Smith is expected to be named the new football coach at Illinois.

John Groce on the sidelines during a game in 2015.

Photo Credit:Rob McColley/Illinois Public Media

Earlier Saturday morning, Whitman told WDWS-AM that men's basketball coach John Groce would remain in his position, despite a 13-17 record this season with one regular season game remaining on the schedule.  Groce is in his fourth season as head coach, with a 75-59 overall record, but just 29-42 in Big Ten conference games.

Groce was asked about Whitman's vote of confidence during a teleconference Saturday morning.

"I'm appreciative of his comments and support," Groce said.  "Both of us believe that we can build something special, and that's what we're going to set out to do.  I'm excited to continue to get his thoughts and ideas as we move forward."