By Joe Henricksen
Isaac Chew tried to say no. But Marquette and coach Buzz Williams kept coming. … And coming … And coming.
When Marquette assistant coach Tony Benford left to become head coach at North Texas, Williams made inquiries to Chew. Initially, Chew had no interest. However, there were several factors that played in to an uncharacteristic coaching move, which has basically resulted in three different high-major jobs — Missouri, Illinois and Marquette — in a matter of two months for the fast-rising assistant coach.
The now former Illinois assistant coach, who was hired by John Groce from Missouri in April, was close to finishing up his seventh week on the job. He was sincerely excited about the Illinois job and opportunity, so much so he took a pay cut to come to Illinois from Missouri. And in conversations the Hoops Report has had with Chew over the last week, the decision weighed on him heavily. He was torn and had a few sleepless nights. Chew kept Groce in the loop throughout the process, though the final stages didn’t start coming together until Memorial Day weekend.
The pull-factors to Marquette, though, were too much at the end of the day for Chew to continue to ignore. There were simply too many pros and advantages with the move to Marquette.
First, Chew has a previous relationship with Williams, which set the tone, initially, for casual conversations between the two. The two are close. Chew talks to Williams fairly regularly, regardless of there being a coaching position open or not, so the dialogue has always been free and easy. So why wouldn’t the question be asked: “So, Isaac, how about coming to Marquette and working for me?” There is a definite comfort level between Chew and Williams.
Second, Marquette has an absurd basketball budget and isn’t afraid to spend. Chew will not be getting just a raise with the move, he will be getting a substantial, a near impossible-to-say-no-to raise with the move to Milwaukee.
Third, Chew’s family and his trusted inner circle were firmly behind the opportunity and the move to Marquette, despite the immediate negative perception he would receive locally in Illinois. Those around him believed it was in his best interest and a opportunistic career move. In addition, Milwaukee is still close to his family in the Chicago area.
Aside from the personal aspect such as a strong relationship and comfort level with Williams, along with additional financial stability for his family, there are all the intangibles that go along with coaching. They all added up on the plus side for Marquette at the present time.
Chew leaves a high-major rebuilding situation at Illinois for a program that has averaged 24 wins a year, made four NCAA Tournaments and back-to-back Sweet Sixteen appearances in the past four seasons under Williams. And in Williams, Chew will be working under a coach who is arguably one of the top dozen or so coaching figures in the college game today.
With Marquette clearly in the midst of a win-now mode and, pardon the pun, “a buzz” surrounding the program, Chew will be in a more advantageous situation as far as becoming a head coach sooner than later in comparison to Illinois.
Now Illinois and Groce are back to filling its high-profile assistant coaching position. And once again, from the outside looking in, with Dustin Ford and Jamall Walker filling the other two assistant spots, the focus could very well be on someone with recruiting ties and a comfort level with not only the city of Chicago, but the suburbs and the state of Illinois.
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