Major college football unexpectedly has another opening.
Just a couple of months after removing the ‘interim’ tag from Bill Cubit’s title, University of Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman fired the coach on his first full day as the program’s new AD. Whitman was effusive in his praise for Cubit, but cited the need for stability in his decision to fire the coach. Cubit initially assumed the head coaching role just prior to last season when Tim Beckman was fired in late August just before the season opener, but he was only given a two-year contract when he was retained in December.
Whitman, however, wasn’t on the job, yet, and he wasted no time in making his first major move as the Fighting Illini’s athletic director. He also made the decision to fire Ryan Cubit, the son of the head coach, who was named the program’s offensive coordinator in December. The remaining assistants will have the opportunity to interview for positions when the new head coach is hired.
In the meantime, spring football, which was scheduled to begin next Friday on March 11, has been delayed. The search for a new coach will begin immediately, and Whitman will need to make a quick decision to ensure that the Fighting Illini’s spring isn’t a complete loss. The new athletic director will almost certainly want a candidate with head coaching experience or, at the very least, a coordinator that hails from a major, ‘Power 5’ program.
The most obvious candidates would be head coaches in the Mid-American Conference, and Rod Carey of Northern Illinois would likely be high on the list of candidates that Illinois will consider. Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck could also be a candidate, and the recent success of Illinois State at the FCS level means that Redbirds head coach Brock Spack could be on the short list, too. Spack is maybe the most intriguing candidate on the list having led the Redbirds since 2009 with appearances in no less than the FCS quarterfinals in the past four seasons. That includes the 2014 season in which they advanced all the way to the FCS Championship Game losing to North Dakota State in the finale. Prior to his stint at Illinois State, he was also a defensive coordinator for 10 years at Purdue under Joe Tiller where he also played linebacker from 1980-1983. Spack’s deep ties to the Big Ten could be attractive although Carey also hails from Big Ten country – he was born in Madison, Wisconsin, and played center at Indiana (1990-1993).
Certainly there are probably other candidates, but Whitman clearly is looking to make an immediate impact. If he isn’t able to land one of the three candidates above and instead has to settle for a relatively unknown coordinator, then Whitman himself is likely to face a lot of criticism as Illinois heads into the summer and then the fall. Considering the timing, it’s not out of the question that Whitman has already had some quiet conversations in the background with potential candidates and may have been confident that he already has the next coach in hand.
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