The Illinois regular season is over, and the Illini are once again on the outside of the NCAA tournament discussion. What Josh Whitman has to do next seems fairly straightforward, but who are the options on his list of potential replacement candidates? As part of a TCR mega-series, today we’re examining current Baylor head coach Scott Drew, and his chances of potentially becoming the next men’s basketball coach at the University of Illinois.
Drew graduated from Butler in 1993. Although he never played high school or college basketball, Drew was a student assistant for the Bulldogs’ basketball team for three seasons. After college he joined the coaching staff at Valparaiso under his father Homer and spent nine years on the Crusaders’ staff. While there, Drew earned a reputation as one of the best recruiters in the nation. In the late summer of 2003, Scott made the first big move of his coaching career, accepting the head coaching position at Baylor following the resignation of Dave Bliss due to a scandal at the school.
The scandal left the Bears’ program in near ruins, as most of the players transferred and the NCAA placed them on probation until 2010. Drew accumulated a total of 19 wins in his first three seasons combined in Waco, but he was able to turn the corner in his fourth year in charge. He took the Bears to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1988 and posted a 21-11 record. Since that 2008 season he’s helped Baylor become one of the premiere Big 12 programs. In the past six years Drew has led the Bears to six postseason appearances, including an NIT championship in 2012 and a Sweet Sixteen run in 2014. Along the way he’s finished second and third in the Big 12 several times, which is impressive considering the run of first place finishes Kansas has put together.
This year Drew’s Bears owned the No. 1 ranking in the nation for quite some time, but have fallen to Kansas twice and currently sit in second place in the Big 12. They’re a lock for a high seed in the NCAA tournament, and were at one time considered to be a one-seed before dropping several contests in the month of February. When asked about how he has galvanized his team, Drew made an interesting comment, saying that, “We might not win games and I might be a horrible coach, but if any of these guys leave Baylor without knowing Christ, that will be the real loss.” It’s clear Drew cares for his players deeply and looks to have them setup for another deep postseason run in 2017.
Scott has the same mild Illinois connections that his brother Bryce have — they both experienced midwestern recruiting and Big Ten games during their time at Valparaiso. But Scott might have a slightly larger connection to the Illini specifically, as he was linked to the Illinois job opening when Bruce Weber was fired five years ago. In an ESPN article listing potential candidates, Drew was ranked as the number one option for Mike Thomas and the Illini. He obviously ended up staying at Baylor, but his prior interest to the opening in Champaign means it might be worth giving him call again this time around.
1. Success at Baylor
Drew has turned the Baylor program around almost singlehandedly. It was thought of as one of the worst power-five jobs in the country following the scandal that resulted in Dave Bliss’s firing. Drew took the reigns with almost no talented players or fanbase, and in the span of five or six years turned the Bears into one of the elite destinations in the country. Now Baylor is known as a perennial contender, having been to four straight NCAA tournaments and having won the NIT the year before that. Drew’s coaching ability is undeniable given the extreme 180 he has performed at Baylor.
2. Great recruiter
Perhaps his best attribute, Drew is known for his recruiting abilities. In his fourteen seasons at Baylor, Drew has managed to produce eight NBA draft picks, including three lottery selections. He’s recruited highly-touted prospects such as Quincy Miller, Perry Jones III, Isaiah Austin and Jonathan Motley and turned them into polished NBA rookies. With the recruiting hotbed that is Chicago, Drew could potentially land some elite talent if he were hired at Illinois.
3. Job interest/lack-of-Baylor-job interest
Not only has Drew had previous interest in the Illinois opening, but the Baylor athletic department once again appears to be in shambles after the fallout of the football scandal that rocked the University. They’re searching for a new president and recently hired a new football coach, but this might be a time for Drew to get out of dodge. Considering he’s been in Waco for nearly fifteen seasons, maybe this turn for the worse in the athletic department is the right opportunity for Scott to search for a new challenge elsewhere.
1. Success at Baylor
As much as this is a positive anecdote to show that he’s a great coach, Drew’s success at Baylor also means that he might stay rooted in Waco. He’s clearly comfortable and well-known amongst the community, and his consistent years of NCAA tournament appearances and wins means it won’t be easy to convince him to give that all up for the uncertainty of a rebuild project like Illinois. That’s not to say he wouldn’t pick up the phone if Josh Whitman called, but it might take a lot to pry Drew away from the consistent and remarkable success he’s had in Waco.
Probably the biggest sticking point with Drew, as it is for many coaches on this list, is his salary. He currently makes $2.8 million a year at Baylor, and is signed into a ten-year deal that runs through the end of the 2018-19 season. His buyout would be large and the annual salary would have to be even larger. Whitman might be able to pool the resources to get a move like this done, but it won’t be easy considering the hefty amount of money Drew is currently making at Baylor.
3. Recruiting practices
Unfortunately, Drew doesn’t have an unblemished reputation when it comes to the recruiting trail. Even though he has an undeniable talent to recruit high school prospects, a CBS Sports poll ranked him the second-biggest “cheater” behind only John Calipari when it comes to recruiting players. Even though he’s never formally been charged or sanctioned by the NCAA, there are a lot of rumors and whispers that not everything Drew does is on the level. Again, there’s no official evidence of any of this, but it might not be the best situation for Whitman to take on if there’s a potential NCAA sanction looming for Drew’s shady recruiting practices.
Overall I think Drew should be very high on Whitman’s list. His brother Bryce might be given a slightly higher ranking by me personally, due to his younger age and more squeaky-clean record, but either of these brothers would be a home-run hire for Illinois. It’s really a matter of whether or not Whitman would call them. Scott was certainly intent on listening to offers back in 2011, so it’s fair to assume he’d pick up the phone if the Illini came calling again. But given his salary and success in Waco it would take a very promising pitch from Whitman to get Drew to sign on. That said I would absolutely love it if either of the Drew brothers were named Illinois’ next head coach; I think they can bring a lot of things to the table that would suit the Illini program and the Big Ten landscape very well.
Have thoughts on the chances of Scott Drew becoming the next head coach at Illinois? Drop by in the comments section below and let us know what you think!