The Norman Transcript

March 30, 2011

Williams off the table, OU talking to Illinois' Weber

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Oklahoma’s initial choice to replace Jeff Capel went off the table Wednesday. Marquette coach Buzz Williams “finalized” an extension to remain the Golden Eagles head coach.

Marquette did not release the terms of Williams’ new contract, but it is believed to include a raise over the $1.6 million he had been making.

According to two sources close to the OU program, Williams was the initial target when OU athletic director Joe Castiglione fired Capel on March 14. But that was before the Golden Eagles advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, making Marquette’s incentive to keep Williams even stronger.

“I was given an opportunity beyond my wildest dreams 1,086 days ago,” Williams said in statement released by Marquette, “and my entire family is extremely humbled and grateful by the opportunity to continue this journey.”

So where does OU go from here?

A well-placed college basketball source told the Transcript on Wednesday night that Illinois coach Bruce Weber has emerged as a viable candidate and there appears to be mutual interest.

Weber, who has been at Illinois the last eight seasons and led the Illini to the national championship game in 2005 and the NCAA Tournament in six of his eight seasons, appears to have some reasons to find OU attractive.

The Illini went 20-14 this past season and reached the NCAA Tournament as a No. 9 seed, reaching the second round. Earlier in the season, Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther actually issued a statement supporting Weber’s future at Illinois when it looked like it might miss the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years.

Illinois will also have to replace four senior starters next season.

Another factor that could make OU very attractive to Weber is that Guenther’s contract expires at the end of June. If it’s not renewed, Weber’s seat at Illinois could get very hot under a new athletic director.

But Weber does have a history of winning conference championships in a power conference. The Illini won Big Ten titles in Weber’s first two seasons after taking over when Bill Self went to Kansas.

Three other possible candidates when the search began are no longer valid.

Memphis coach Josh Pastner signed an extension to remain its coach Tuesday. The Las Vegas Sun reported Wednesday that UNLV coach Lon Kruger denied OU’s overtures. BYU coach Dave Rose is reportedly working on an extension to remain on the Cougars’ bench.

One candidate that remains in play, but has a lower profile is Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. Sources close to OU and college basketball have both said Marshall is on Castiglione’s radar.

He’s gone 80-55 in four seasons at Wichita State. He’ll led the Shockers against Alabama in the NIT title game tonight at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Wichita State hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament under Marshall. But he did lead Winthrop to the NCAA Tournament seven times in nine years prior to taking over at Wichita State.

Only problem there is Marshall seems to be on the radar of two other athletic directors’ radars.

North Carolina State is still searching for a replacement for Sidney Lowe, who resigned on March 15. Marshall, a South Carolina native, might find a return to the Mid-Atlantic region more appealing.

There’s also the vacancy at Missouri. Purdue coach Matt Painter rejected the Tigers’ offer Wednesday. Marshall was believed on Missouri athletic director Mike Alden’s initial list after Mike Anderson chose to leave Missouri for Arkansas.

John Shinn 366-3536 jshinn@normantranscript.com