CHICAGO – Purdue coach Matt Painter said Wednesday he was disappointed Illinois didn’t give former Illini coach Bruce Weber more support, but he believed they had a made a smart choice with their new coach John Groce.
Weber was a Purdue assistant coach when Painter played for the Boilermakers, and Weber later hired Painter as an assistant at Southern Illinois. Painter succeeded Weber as head coach at Southern Illinois.
Weber was fired in March after nine seasons at Illinois and was hired to be Kansas State’s head coach in April. Groce, who was previously at Ohio, was hired to replace Weber at Illinois.
“(Weber’s) meant everything to me,” said Painter after throwing out a ceremonial first pitch at the Chicago White Sox’s game on Wednesday. “He gave me a chance as a player. He gave me a chance as a coach. He’s been there for me.
“It was unfortunate (at Illinois.) You get in that situation in the middle of the season and you want support. You want people to support you. I’ve been in there where you’ve gotten support in tough times. He didn’t feel he got that. We didn’t feel he got that. He stayed the course and kept plugging.”
Despite Weber’s firing, Painter thought Weber landed in a better situation.
“He fell upstairs in my opinion,” Painter said. “He’s now in a place that wants him. He’s at Kansas State, which is a great school. It’s just too bad it didn’t work because I think he’s a special person and a great coach.”
Painter did believe made a wise decision in hiring Groce. Painter thought Groce’s NCAA tournament experience as a head coach at Ohio and his time at Ohio State had him prepared for the Big Ten.
“He’s been through it,” Painter said of Groce. “He was an assistant at Ohio State. They all but won it all when he was there. He’s been there and done that. He knows what he’s getting into. He knows how tough it is.
“What he did at Ohio going to the tournament two different times and winning games at the tournament that speaks for itself. That’s a hard thing to do when you’re in a league that is always going to have one or two teams getting into the tournament. He had a lot of success there. He’s proven himself. He’s been in the league. … He’s going to embrace the opportunity and challenge. They’re going to be a tough out. Illinois is always going to have guys.”