The brand-new athletic director who’d fired him was basking in glory.
The players who’d sworn by him were rejoicing.
The media who’d ignored him were turning Chicago-to-Champaign into a parade route.
And, of course, the coach who’d been hired in his stead was being feted as a hero.
This was Monday, a mere 48 hours after Bill Cubit’s career had been dealt a sudden, crippling — potentially lethal — blow. Illinois supporters from near and far whooped it up in celebration of their new champion, Lovie Smith. The 62-year-old Cubit tried not to let it make him feel like Illini Nation was dancing on his grave.
It hurt like hell. How could it not?
“But I’m not going to wallow in sorrow or self-pity,” he told the Sun-Times.
“There has been a lot of negativity [at Illinois], and I swore I would not be negative. I swore that I’d be positive, even if things go against me. I don’t want to waste a minute of my life being negative now. Life is too short.”
Cubit couldn’t sleep Saturday night; the knots in his stomach wouldn’t let him.
He thought about offensive coordinator Ryan Cubit, fired along with his dad, and the other assistants who — if they aren’t retained by Smith — will have next to no chance at all to find jobs this coming season. What could he do to help them?
“That’s the most important part of all this,” Cubit said. “Those guys put their faith in me.”
He thought about his parents, Loretta, whom he lost last August, and Bill Sr., who passed away in 2013.
He thought about how much he missed his daughters and grandchildren and especially his wife, Nancy, who has been at their home in Stuart, Fla., recuperating from injuries sustained in a car accident three days after Christmas. Nancy’s injuries were minor compared to those of the couple’s golden retriever, but Kali survived; black lab Gage did, too.
“I have the best family in the world,” Cubit said.
Still in Champaign, Cubit has tried to start each day with something good. Sunday, he went to church. Monday, he played nine holes of golf. Tuesday, he met friends for breakfast. He has spent hours returning texts and calls from well-wishers, including several Big Ten coaches, and reaching out to others in the business just in case an opportunity might bubble up for one of his assistants.
What about his own career?
“After the season, I’m sure somebody will contact me,” he said.
But another Power 5 conference head coaching job? Another seven-figure salary?
In truth, Cubit wasn’t even on the path to those things when he arrived at Illinois to be Tim Beckman’s offensive coordinator. His ascension to interim coach, and from there to head coach, just kind of happened.
And then came Saturday, when it un-happened.
Three months after being elevated to head coach and given a two-year deal, Cubit won’t get his shot at the big leagues after all. Let’s be honest: It’s doubtful now that he ever will.
On Wednesday, Cubit will wake up and choose not to wallow. Instead, he’ll do something really good: leave Champaign behind.
“I need to go take care of my wife,” he said, a choke in his voice.
From there, well, he’ll just have to figure it out. Sometimes, there’s not much more a man can do.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.