Time flies, doesn’t it? This is a photo from June 2010. Illini coaches Ron Zook and Bruce Weber were part of an “Illini Night” celebration here at the ballpark. Both coaches mixed and mingled for fans, signing autographs, posing for photos, and also throwing ceremonial first pitches in personalized Cougars jerseys.
All in all, it was a great night with many Cougars fans showing their orange and blue pride that evening.
Less than 2 years later, both coaches are no longer employed at the university after frustrating ends to both the football and basketball seasons.
In working with the university athletic staff that evening, I was impressed by both coaches and their personalities, particularly coach Weber. It seemed as if he had that innate ability to personally connect with people – fans, media, myself, etc.
In a certain sense, that’s one of the most vital “non-X’s and O’s” quality in ANY coach who is on the recruiting trail, meeting with a wealthy donor, or talking with a reporter.
Coach Weber really impressed me that night as a warm communicator in his dialogue with everyone. In talking with myself, he had a lot of heartfelt questions about the Cougars team, the stadium, and our history. That night right before he left, he thanked me for the accommodations and politely declined needing a security staff member to escort him to his car. He just left on his own for the parking lot, as any fan would, in his Cougars jersey.
Admittedly, I was biased before that night. I gained so much respect for him personally in 2005, particularly upon the passing of his mother in the midst of the Big 10 Tournament. As great as that season was for Weber and his team, I’m sure he hurts still when thinking about the loss of his Mom that spring in Chicago.
I truly hope things work out for him, wherever the next stop in his coaching career might be. And I’ll look back fondly on the night we hosted him at a game, not quite 2 years ago.