A 34-51 overall record in seven years as head coach. An 18-38 mark in Big Ten games. A six-game losing streak that squandered a 6-0 start, culminating in a disgraceful 27-7 loss to a pathetic Minnesota team.
Yeah, these are the reasons Ron Zook was relieved of his duties as Illinois football coach over the weekend.
Did we mention that recruiting is going terrible and actual attendance for the last home game against Wisconsin was well below the announced figure of 45,519? Those are also clear indicators that a change was necessary.
Without a doubt, Zook's firing was an obvious decision for new Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas. I don't know a single person who disagrees with this move, and believe me, I know a lot of people who graduated from Illinois.
Since we all agree that Zook had to move on, let's tackle a harder question. How much winning will men's basketball coach Bruce Weber have to do this season to retain his position?
Weber is a much more polarizing figure for Illinois fans than Zook ever was. If you take a whirl around the various Illini fan sites on the Internet, you'll find posters segregated into two distinct camps: "the Weber haters" and "the Weber apologists." There is no middle ground. It's like the White Sox-Cubs debates. You can't cheer for both. You have to choose a side, under penalty of death (or banishment).
Given the inherent nastiness in the debate over Weber's job status, it's only natural that both sides listened very carefully when Thomas explained his decision to remove Zook. Did Thomas drop any hints with regard to Weber and the future of the basketball program at Illinois?
"I assessed the entire program and felt that it was time for a change in leadership," Thomas said of Zook. "It is imperative that our program shows some consistency and competes for championships, and I think a change in coaches can help us get there sooner.
"I wasn't here seven years ago when Ron Zook took over as coach, but it's clear the program is in better shape than what he inherited. I believe we need new leadership to take the program to the level to compete for championships on a consistent basis. This is an extremely competitive conference, and we are determined to go head-to-head with the very best."
Then there was this...
"You look at the total body of work, not just since my arrival," Thomas said. "The reset button doesn't get pushed. It's going back before my time.
"You look at a lot of things, primarily the competitive pieces. Winning at a high level, winning Big Ten championships and being a national player."
"Success in football translates to a certain buzz in the community, and that translates to more people coming to Memorial Stadium and more money for the program," Thomas said.
The comments are interesting because Thomas stated his evaluation of Zook was not limited to just this season. We have to assume his evaluation of Weber will also not be limited to this year -- in which the Illini are off to a 6-0 start against a soft early schedule.
Make no mistake, Weber's seat is hot. But it's not scorching like Zook's was. Weber does have a few things working in his favor. Most importantly, his overall body of work is better than Zook's.
This is Weber's ninth season at Illinois and he has won two Big Ten titles (2004, 2005) and finished second on two other occasions (2006, 2009). Weber has finished in the upper half of the Big Ten in seven of his eight years, with the disastrous 2008 season being the only exception. Zook, in contrast, never won a Big Ten championship and finished in the top half of the Big Ten only twice (2007, 2010) in his seven years.
However, Weber's teams have not been in the conference title conversation four of the last five years, and it's been awhile since he's won. But he has won before. The question is whether Thomas thinks he can win again. It's a great question, and the results this season may tell the tale.
Unlike in football, recruiting has been going very well for basketball. Weber has hauled in three straight top-15 classes, and he already has two top-100 commitments for 2013. The current Illinois roster is the deepest and most talented squad Weber has ever recruited. But it's a young roster -- six freshmen and only one senior. Typically, inexperienced teams don't win a lot in the Big Ten, but it's fair to say Weber is going to have to make this squad grow up quickly this year. Sooner or later, the good recruiting has to show up on the floor. The guess here is Mike Thomas expects those results to come sooner rather than later.
Here's Weber's biggest problem going forward: Attendance at Assembly Hall sucks. Above, we noted that Thomas wants "a buzz" around his football program. Well, you can bet your ass he wants a buzz surrounding men's basketball, too. There is none, and to me, that's the biggest black mark against Weber. Illinois is a basketball school first and foremost, but few are excited about this season's prospects despite the noticeable uptick in talent.
Illinois ran a "Cyber Monday" promotion where it was selling $5 tickets to the Dec. 11 game against Coppin State. There was also a "Black Friday" promotion, inviting fans to buy a package of tickets to three non-conference games for only $15.
Great for fans, bad for business. Big-time programs don't have to practically give away tickets like that. I've heard ticket sales for the annual game at the United Center -- Dec. 17 against UNLV this year -- are languishing also.
There are fewer tickets available for Big Ten games, but no sellouts yet. Fan interest is down, apathy is up.
Illinois has several big games coming up in December -- Tuesday at Maryland, Saturday against Gonzaga, the aforementioned UNLV game, the annual Braggin' Rights Game against Missouri on Dec. 22.
This is Weber's opportunity to generate some buzz. He's gotta win at least three of these games to energize the fans again. If Illinois doesn't play well enough to get some butts in seats for January and February, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see a change at the top in basketball also.