Illinois fires Jolette Law after 5 seasons

Illinois women's basketball coach Jolette Law has been fired after five seasons, the school announced on Friday.

The move was Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas' second major coaching change in his first year. He previously fired football coach Ron Zook in November. Thomas could also have a difficult decision ahead over whether to retain men's basketball coach Bruce Weber.

Law went 69-93 overall and 27-59 in the Big Ten and reached the WNIT twice in five years. Illinois never finished higher than eighth in the Big Ten under Law.

The Illini's 2011-12 season ended on Thursday with a loss in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Illinois finished 11-19 this season.

"Jolette worked extremely hard the last five years, but I feel the program needs new leadership for us to compete for championships," Thomas said in a statement. "We wish Jolette and her staff nothing but the best as they move on to other challenges and opportunities. We'll begin a national search immediately to locate the very best coach for the Fighting Illini."

Thomas said the team should be able to draw more fans. Average attendance has dropped from just under 1,500 a game in 2008 to just over 1,000 a game, according to the NCAA.

"If you have a winning program they will show up," he said.

Law had two years remaining on her contract and had been hired by former athletic director Ron Guenther. She will be paid the $620,000 she's owed for those years, Thomas said. Law came to Illinois from Rutgers, where she was an assistant under C. Vivian Stringer for 12 years. That included a trip to the 2007 NCAA title game.

"I would like to thank Ron Guenther and the Illini family for the opportunity to represent the people of the state of Illinois as their head women's basketball coach," Law said in a statement. "I have found great joy in coaching, teaching and guiding a group of remarkable young women. We have laid a good foundation for great things to happen in the near future. I wish nothing but the best for Mr. Thomas, the program, the University and of course my student-athletes."

Thomas said many of the people he'd like to interview are with teams still playing, so he could not put a timetable on when a new coach would be hired. He added that the next coach doesn't necessarily have to have head-coaching experience.

After playing at Iowa, Law also played several seasons as one of the few women to ever suit up for the Harlem Globetrotters.

At Illinois she replaced Theresa Grentz, a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame who coached the Illini to prominence before struggling in her final few seasons.

Thomas fired Zook in November after the Illini football team lost six straight games, a move that cost Illinois a $2.6 million buyout. Zook's replacement, Tim Beckman, was named less than two weeks later.

Speculation has picked up in recent weeks Weber could be fired at the end of this season after his team has fallen almost entirely out of NCAA tournament contention. Buying out Weber's contract would cost another $3.9 million.

Thomas has declined to talk about Weber's situation.

The athletic director said when he took the job at Illinois he didn't have any improve-or-else mandates in mind for any of the coaches he would oversee. But few coaches, he said, keep their jobs long term.

"You have a Bobby Bowden for life, you have a Jim Boeheim for life, you have a Pat Summit for life," Thomas said. "You can kind of count those situations on one hand for sports."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.