brad underwood, illinois NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 18: Head coach Brad Underwood of the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks reacts in the first half against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 18, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

The Illinois basketball program has long felt like somewhat of a sleeping giant.

Illinois is a large state school in the Big Ten, not far from the high school basketball mecca of Chicago. There’s some history of success, and there seems to be buy-in from the administration. All that’s been missing in recent years—so it seems, at least—is the right coach.

Well the Illini might now have their man.

A week after firing John Groce, Illinois has found his replacement: Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood.

Underwood’s hiring comes as somewhat of a shock. He had been in Stillwater for only a year, and Illinois is not far and away a better program than Oklahoma State. From a basketball standpoint, there was no obvious reason for him to bolt.

That said, Underwood made only $1 million last season with the Cowboys, so he figures to be in for a raise in Champaign. (It’s worth noting the hypocrisy of coaches bailing for new jobs and more money after a single season while players who wish to transfer need to sit out a season).

The reaction to this news has been, as you might expect, received very differently among the Illinois and Oklahoma State fanbases.


For the Illini, this seems like a coup. Underwood is one of the top young coaches in the country, having transformed Oklahoma State from a 12-20 Big 12 bottom dweller to a 20-13 NCAA Tournament team.


To Oklahoma State, on the other hand, Underwood’s departure is borderline traitorous. It’s also a sign that Stillwater is not a desirable destination for top coaching talent.

Underwood doesn’t have an easy job ahead of him at Illinois. The Illini haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2013 and are losing the top three scorers from this year’s team.

But Underwood has shown an ability to turn around a program quickly. It’s probably his old program, not his new one, that should be sweating.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports,, and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

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