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Perspective on the Jeff Thomas saga

Stop trying to find someone to blame.

Capital One Orange Bowl - Miami v Wisconsin Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

In case you somehow didn’t see the news, or if you are simply confused by the back-and-forth of it, Jeff Thomasafter first being kicked off Miami, then announcing his transfer to Illinois in December, then having reports he was trying to get back on Miami over the weekend, then him telling The News-Gazette’s Bob Asmussen that he was coming to Illinois saying he never really considered going back to Miami only to then change his mind less than a day later — has announced he is heading back to Miami rather than transfer to Illinois.

Illinois has had some heartbreaking recruiting moments, but this has to be up there. Illinois was in the running to getting Jeff Thomas out of high school, but he chose to go to the Hurricanes. Then, Illinois finally got Jeff Thomas in a transfer, then seemingly lost him, only to gain him back and then lose him again all in a span of a couple of days. This convoluted mess is a good encapsulation of what it feels like to be an Illini fan these days.

As TCR’s Twitter says, there is always inevitable heartbreak.

Jeff Thomas would have filled the biggest hole and need on Illinois’ offense and perhaps could have been a great fit for the scheme of Rod Smith, but it is unlikely that Thomas would have been granted a hardship waiver after being kicked off Miami. It’s hard to sell that you are transferring to be closer to family when you are transferring after former Miami head coach Mark Richt kicked you off the team.

Illinois’ WR depth chart is not very inspiring right now and, without better production out of the receivers — please be good AD Miller — it’s hard to see how the Illini offense would improve much in 2019 with a young QB without proven receiving options.

However, you can’t blame Illinois here for what happened. They aren’t at fault for anything here. There was simply nothing they could do. I also don’t think you can villainize Miami or Manny Diaz for this. Seriously, I challenge anyone to point out anything that Manny Diaz did wrong here. You can talk all you want about him taking the Temple job only to back out of it to return to Miami, but when it comes to this Jeff Thomas situation, there is nothing there. Diaz was just doing his job.

Some are also pearl clutching, “BUT WHAT HAPPENED TO COMMITMENT?”

*eye rolls forever*

First off, Eric Gordon happened like a decade ago. Get over yourself. This isn’t some new phenomenon.

Also, Illinois currently employs Brad Underwood as its head basketball coach, a man who left Oklahoma State after one year in order to get a pay raise with Illinois. If you are going to pearl clutch about an unpaid athlete’s lack of commitment to their word while also being okay with Underwood’s choice to come to Illinois, you are being painfully obtuse.

Finally, athletes today are also much smarter in how they use their power to put themselves in the best situations. The Big Ten signed a $2.6 billion TV deal with ESPN and Fox Sports, of which almost none will benefit the players, and exactly $0 will be paid to them in a deserved salary. I will not blame a player for doing everything they can in a rigged system like this to put themselves in a better situation. Commitment be damned.

This is quite simply just an unfortunate situation for Illinois.

Here is all you need to know about why this happened, the TLDR of the Jeff Thomas saga:

  1. Jeff Thomas’ primary and sole motivation is to get to the NFL and he will almost certainly enter the 2020 NFL Draft.
  2. He came to Illinois after getting kicked off Miami by Mark Richt. If Richt didn’t abruptly retire from Miami, this doesn’t happen.
  3. It was a 50/50 shot at best he would have been granted eligibility to play at Illinois in 2019 with a hardship waiver, as mentioned before. If Thomas was not granted a waiver it’s likely he would have never played a down of football for the Illini.
  4. Going back to Miami guarantees he can play in 2019, which will allow him to showcase his talents for certain for NFL scouts this upcoming season to help his draft stock, so he made the logical choice based on his primary NFL motivation. (Jeff Thomas may also feel Miami is a place he can produce better as they are more talented overall, but that is besides the point.)

That’s it. That’s the story in full more or less. Jeff Thomas acted in his best interest. Lovie Smith and Illinois in theirs and Miami and Manny Diaz in theirs. There are no villains here. I lost some respect for Thomas in him telling Asmussen he is coming to Illinois and saying he never really considered Miami.

“Not really,” Thomas said. “It was probably because of the post I had deleted off Twitter and Instagram.”

However, it would be silly to get worked up over that. We don’t know what happened in the hours between the conversation between Thomas and Asmussen. Perhaps Miami changed its mind. Or maybe Tate Martell’s commitment to Miami played a role. Maybe he saw all the snow in the metro-east and decided to change his mind and head back to the sunshine and beaches.

Whatever caused Thomas’ change of heart it was his choice to make and he made it. Illini fans can be upset with the outcome, but you cannot attack Thomas for his choice. He owed Illinois fans nothing. He made the best choice for his personal situation and I respect that. Illinois fans can be disappointed, but we’ll just have to move on.

Sometimes bad things happen and no one is as fault. Unfortunately, they just seem to happen to Illinois more than other college athletic programs.

P.S. If I see one more “we only want guys who want to be at Illinois” take I will explode.

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