The Ohio Vacancy and Illinois Assistant Coach Dustin Ford

Illinois assistant head coach Dustin Ford (right) restrains John Groce from destroying this referee. - Matthew Holst

The top Illinois assistant could be in the running for head coaching position at his alma mater, Ohio University. Or maybe not.

Regardless of the sport or level of competition, whether it be the collegiate level or the pros, assistant coaches receiving head coaching positions is nothing less than a good thing--even for the departing program. It's seemingly backward logic, but what it signifies is more important.

When a program with a coaching vacancy has interest in one of your assistants, generally speaking, it's a complimentary gesture to the latter program. They see a good program humming along, then see charismatic assistants learning how to run a good program in the increasingly complicated world of college athletics. Essentially: we want your assistants because we want the success your program has established. How flattering.

These are how coaching trees sprout from the barren earth of impatient college athletic directors and boosters. All things considered, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta should probably be receiving some kickback from his coaching descendants' success, a list that includes the Boston Celtics head coach and a handful of multi-millionaire head coaches at power programs. These programs wanted what Matta procured at Xavier and Ohio State: a quick turnaround and sustained success.

And now to Illinois' plight: The Ohio University head coaching job opened this week when Jim Christian took the same position at Boston College (who doesn't want a coach well-versed in the MACtion anymore?). With a vacant coaching position follows wishes and hopefuls. Two prominent former Bobcats players voiced their opinions via Twitter this week.

Ford is a 2001 graduate of Ohio and started all four seasons he played on the team from 1997-2001. He triumphantly returned to his alma mater in 2009 as an assistant for John Groce, overseeing one of the program's most successful stretches of basketball. It would surprise no one if there was mutual interest from both sides for the job.

But just when you were thinking Ford could already be out the door, this report was dropped from a local television reporter in Columbus.

(And before you do some serious chin-stroking wondering about the logic of that tweet, here is cool dude Mark Titus to assuage your intelligence).

Titus is referring to our fearless leader, John Groce.

If that report is true and comes to pass, let me be the first to say "Whew." Now, I did start this post stating that losing assistants is a good thing. I still believe that, but allow me to be selfish. I never thought we'd be getting our assistants poached this soon, especially given our encouraging but not world-beating first two seasons of the Groce Era. Part of it is circumstance, I realize. Brandon Miller, a special assistant to the head coach last season, left for the Butler head coaching job at his alma mater. This is another alma mater scenario for Ford.

It's difficult-to-impossible to quantify an assistant's effect on a program, and it's the head coach's responsibility to ensure transitions between assistants are fluid and not damaging to the future of the program. But there's an undercurrent here that Ford leaves a significant imprint on the Illinois team, through personality, coaching or otherwise. He's been Groce's battery-mate since the two joined up at Ohio, and his focus is on the frontcourt players. With Nnanna entering his senior season in an important year in the trajectory for the program, it could be a blow to his progression as well as the three soon-to-be sophomores in the frontcourt. It's impossible to know for sure.

When I watched him operate in his first season, I knew Illinois' days with Ford on the sidelines probably had an expiration date. He's a born coach from a family of head coaches. But I guessed that wouldn't be for another four or five years.

If Schaus changes his mind, it's not panic mode for Illinois. We'll congratulate Ford, wish him well, root from afar and keeping the orange and blue train chugging. But selfishly, I hope he's staying put for a few more years.

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