After interim athletic director Paul Kowalczyk asked interim coach Bill Cubit to stay on as coach for two more years, Illinois’ head coach was too choked up to tell his players.
So he asked faculty rep Matt Wheeler to make the announcement at the team hotel before the Illini departed for Soldier Field.
‘‘Probably a little embarrassing for me,’’ Cubit said. ‘‘I didn’t know how to do it. It was a standing ovation. You know me. I teared up. The kids were the same way. They trust the system. They’re just happy that it stays the same.’’
Hiring Bill Cubit won’t solve all of Illinois’ problems. The adrenalin boost could not spare the Illini from a 24-14 loss to No. 16 Northwestern at Soldier Field.
That left the Illini (5-7) one win short of their bowl-trip goal.
‘‘Five wins is not enough,’’ Cubit said. ‘‘But there’s a lot of positive vibes out there. My job is to convert the naysayers. And bring this place to a spot where everybody wants it.’’
All things considered, Kowalczyk, interim chancellor Barbara Wilson and other school officials decided that keeping Cubit, albeit on a short leash, is the best way to proceed.
‘‘The university is in a situaiton with interim tags on a lot of different people,’’ Kowalzcyk said. ‘‘The feeling was, it would be best for a permanent AD to make a decision, someone of their choosing. This will help us get us where we to need to be in order to make that decision.’’
In other words, Cubit’s two-year deal will give the new athletic director greater freedom to put the coach of his choosing in place. It’s even possible Cubit has coached his last game at Illinois, if a new athletic director wants to move quickly and boldly.
‘‘Obviousy, it’s not ideal,’’ Kowalczyk said when asked about the impact on recruiting for a coach with a mere two-year mandate. ‘‘But for now, I don’t think it will put a dagger in the heart of the program. The program’s too strong. Bill is recruiting. It’s not going to stop him from what he’s trying to accomplish.’’
It’s not as if Illinois was recruiting up a storm, anyway, skeptics could point out.
Cubit, who will be paid $1.2 million a year, will have a more manageable buyout than the five-year deal that’s typically given to an incoming coach.
‘‘There are buyout provisions,’’ Kowalczyk said. ‘‘We have to work out the details of that, but everybody has agreed to everything in principle.’’
On the other hand, while less glamorous than some alternatives, Cubit, 62, has demonstrated he’s capable of being successful.
“Bill is eminently qualified,’’ Kowalczyk said. ‘‘He’s been a head coach [at Western Michigan]. He knows what has to be done. Bill knows you have to be a CEO, not just a head coach. There’s a lot of moving parts. He handles those very well.’’
And he brings stability to a program that was rocked by allegations of abuse by Tim Beckman, who was fired last August.
‘‘It means a lot in terms of stability in the program with so much going on,’’ junior quarterback Wes Lunt said. ‘‘To have him named head coach puts [the players] a little at ease. We’re very excited. [The announcement] was definitely unexpected. We’re happy for him and his family. He really cares about his players. He’s a player’s coach. We’re lucky to have him for a few more years.’’