Just last week, new Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman gave a public vote of confidence to embattled head coach John Groce. A stream of injuries and off-court issues made Groce’s job as head coach a very challenging one.
Still, Whitman believed Groce was the right man to lead the program going forward.
“I think it’s important today that folks understand that John Groce is going to continue to be our basketball coach,” Whitman told Loren Tate and Michael Kiser of the News-Gazette. “He’s a first-class individual and an excellent leader. He’s a student of basketball and leadership and I feel really comfortable with the leadership he’s given our guys.”
There’s just one problem with that last part of the statement — under Groce’s leadership there have been four arrests in just the last SEVEN months alone. The latest coming just one week after that statement was issued, as Kendrick Nunn was arrested for domestic battery.
No doubt the players need to be held individually responsible for their actions, and the legal system as well as Groce seem to be doing just that.
Darius Paul’s legal troubles got him kicked off the team, while Leron Black and Jaylon Tate are all awaiting the legal process to play out on charges of aggravated assault and domestic battery respectively.
While those processes play out, both are indefinite suspension from the team. All of that is well and good, but do suspensions of players on a team that isn’t playing basketball anymore this season really have any teeth?
What is even more troubling is that Groce’s players don’t seem to be learning from the harsh lessons he has had to teach other players. Paul’s arrest overseas and dismissal from the program did little to get things through the heads of Groce’s players — and that’s the rub here.
While Groce has done a good job of individual accountability for the transgressions of said players, few of the rest of the players seem to understand that breaking the law isn’t going to be tolerated on this team. Even worse, two players have bene arrested for domestic battery in a matter of a week.
How exactly does that square with good leadership of a team?
At some point, accountability for the actions of those you lead also falls on you. It’s not “guilty by association,” but rather holding leadership accountable for the pattern of actions of those you lead.
While Groce has done an admirable job on the court given all he’s been up against in the past few years, sometimes enough is enough.
This is one of those times, but with Whitman’s statement just one week ago, will he have the guts to do what is needed and start cleaning out a locker room full of bad decision makers at best and bad apples at worst?
It’s time to hold the man in charge responsible for the totality of the actions of his players, especially when two of them are accused of battering women. That can’t be tolerated on any level, and Whitman can make his own leadership statement by holding the program accountable as a whole.