Nine-year Illini coach fights back tears.

 

 Bruce Weber was more like the guy next door.

You'd see him in the grocery store or the coffee shop, and Weber was like most every regulr Joe. He like to drink a beer with his pizza.

So it was a difficult day when the native of Milwaukee lost a dream job of coaching in the Big Ten Conference. Flanked by his wife, daughters and several members of the Illinois basketball team, Weber said an emotional goodbye Friday afternoon, hours after he was fired by athletic director Mike Thomas during an early-morning meeting.

"I can tell you truly that my staff and I have given our heart and soul for this program,'' Weber said. "It's been a tough day. I will always remember April 30, 2003. My first press conference when I proudly became the coach here.

"I will also remember March 9, 2012. My last day here.''

And then he headed off to a local ice cream shop.

"Thank you for being a special part of our lives,'' Weber said.

Weber was paid handsomely, and he will get a $3.9-million buyout, yet he didn't play the part of the next generation of major-college coach. The 55-year-old Weber had an old-school approach.

He worked tirelessly as a recruiter, when some head coaches only make cameo appearances, and Weber was a national leader in Coaches vs. Cancer. He said he would donate his 72 orange ties for an auction to benefit the fund.

Weber met with Thomas at 7:30 a.m. Friday morning, then spoke with his team for a few minutes before Thomas addressed the roster. By mid-afternoon when he talked to the media, Weber said he still hadn't gotten any sleep from the previous night.

"It's been a very difficult day for me,'' Weber said.

Weber was 210-101 in nine seasons at Illinois, including a 37-2 run to a runner-up finish in the NCAA Tournament in 2005, the school's only trip to the national championship game.

"It was truly a dream to come to Illinois and run a Big Ten program,'' he said.

Before heading out the door, Weber hugged a handful of players, consoled an emotional D.J. Richardson, said farewell to every manager by his first name and worked to hold back tears.

"I will always be rooting for them and want them to have success,'' Weber said of his Illini. "Most importantly, I want them to know I will always be there for the rest of our lives.''

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.

      Weber Career Record at Illinois Year                Overall           Big Ten          Postseason 2003-04         26-7                13-3 (1st)       NCAA Sweet 16, Big Ten Champs 2004-05         37-2                15-1 (1st)       NCAA Runner-Up, Big Ten Champs, Big Ten Tourney Champs 2005-06         26-7                11-5 (2nd-t)    NCAA 2nd Round 2006-07         23-12            9-7 (4th-t)      NCAA 1st Round 2007-08         16-19            5-13 (9th-t) 2008-09         24-10            11-7 (2nd-t)    NCAA 1st Round 2009-10         21-15             10-8 (5th)       NIT Quarterfinals 2010-11         20-14             9-9 (4th-t)      NCAA 3rd Round 2011-12         17-15             6-12 (9th-t) 9 years           210-101         89-65                         (.675)             (.578)