University of Illinois Men's Basketball All-Century Coaches
Elwood Brown (1 year, 6-8, .429)
Leo Hana was put in charge of building the basketball program at Illinois after a women's program had existed for years. A team, led by its playing captain Roy Riley, beat Champaign High School Jan. 6, two weeks before Hana was able to replace Riley with a "professional" coach. Elwood Brown became Illinois' first basketball coach Jan. 20, 1906, and proceeded to turn in a commendable coaching job, especially since the squad lost two of its mainstays during the season. "The results of the season were on the whole satisfactory. In the future, there will not be such a lack of material as hampered the coach (Brown) this season," wrote the 1907 Illio.
F.L. Pinckney (1 year, 1-10, .090)
Pinckney took over the coaching reins for a year in 1907. There was promise for a good season after the solid start the program had made in 1906. More than 100 men tried out for the team. Pinckney found at least three freshmen he thought would help the team and placed them on the varsity squad. However, the Western Conference Committee declared the three ineligible, leaving Pinckney with a much-depleted team and Illinois with its worst record ever. The decision to make the freshmen ineligible gave Pinckney the same problem Brown faced the year before - turning out a winning team with limited talent.
Fletcher Lane (1 year, 20-6, .769)
Fletcher Lane's all-time best winning percentage among Illinois coaches is a bit misleading, since he only coached for one year. His 20-6 team of 1908 benefited from a long Southern trip in which the team beat several YMCA and club teams from Tennessee, Texas, Alabama and Georgia. The club was billed as a closely-knit group, due in part to the long trip. The players, however, did not appear to appreciate Lane's coaching style. M.G. Dadant, the 1908 captain wrote, "Handicapped as they were by the lack of any competent coaching, the players went through the season in perfect harmony, each one relinquishing any personal feelings that the team might be better as a whole."
H.V. Juul (2 years, 12-10, .545)
H. V. Juul became the first Illinois basketball coach to stay for more than one year. He also became the first former Fighting Illini player to head the Illinois basketball program and was captain of the 1907 squad. After leading Illinois to a 12-10 record over two years, he departed to become a professional baseball player, enjoying stints with the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds. Juul was the son of a former Illinois Congressman and, prior to his death in 1928, was a committeeman in the 35th Ward in Chicago as well as campaign director for the Republican Party headquarters at the Morrisson Hotel in Chicago.
Thomas E. Thompson (2 years, 14-14, .500)
T. E. Thompson also had a two-year career as head basketball coach at Illinois, compiling a 14-14 record. Thompson claimed, at the time, to be the only player in Western Conference history to have played five years of collegiate basketball. He was at Northwestern for one year before playing at Illinois for four additional seasons. In addition to his duties as basketball coach at Illinois in 1911-12, he also served as Athletic Director George Huff's only assistant in the athletic department, doubling as the school's general manager of athletics and as ticket manager. After leaving the university, he founded The Thomas Thompson Company in Highland Park, Ill., a manufacturer of enamel products.
Ralph Jones (8 years, 85-34, .714)
After arriving at Illinois from Purdue, Ralph Jones left an impressive legacy behind in Champaign. Besides coaching freshman football and baseball during his tenure at Illinois, he was credited by some with originating the fast break in basketball. After leading the Fighting Illini to one outright crown and the sharing of one other conference championship, Jones left to coach at Lake Forest Academy. In addition, Jones was head coach of the Chicago Bears from 1930-33, where, among other achievements, he was credited with the revival of the T-formation and the use of a man in motion to throw off the defense.
Frank Winters (2 years, 25-12, .676)
While in his two-year stint as coach of the Illinois basketball team, Frank Winters was faced with having only a handful of veteran players available and was forced into installing an entirely new system of play. His 25-12 record in two years was a testament to the way Winters made negatives into positives. Upon arriving as head coach in the fall of 1920, he inherited a team whose best player, Chuck Carney, had just severely injured his knee in the last football game. Nonetheless, the team went on to an 11-7 record and improved to 14-5 in the 1922 campaign.
J. Craig Ruby (14 years, 148-95, .609)
J. Craig Ruby was known as one of the great basketball tacticians of his time. He and legendary Kansas coach Phog Allen actively campaigned together for higher baskets to offset the advantage of tall centers. Ruby alone advocated the elimination of the dribble to do away with stalling, and wanted the hoop enlarged to 20 inches in diameter rather than the standard 18. Ruby's second season at Illinois produced a tie for the Big Ten championship in 1924, but it was not until 1935 that he could lead his team to tie for top conference honors again.
Douglas R. Mills (11 years, 151-66, .696)
Doug Mills was not only an extremely successful basketball coach at Illinois, but also one of the University's most prolific and long-standing administrators. He began his association with Fighting Illini athletics as a standout in both football and basketball in the late 1920s. Mills became the first Illinois head basketball coach to lead his squad to three Big Ten crowns. Also included in his 11-year coaching tenure was the formation of the legendary "Whiz Kids" team of 1942 and '43. That team won back-to-back Big Ten crowns. After retiring from the coaching ranks in 1947, Mills retained his position as athletic director until 1966.
Harry Combes (20 years, 316-150, .678)
Harry Combes only had to move across town after accepting the job as head coach at Illinois. Prior to joining the Illini, he had been head coach at Champaign High School where he posted an astounding 254-46 record, including winning the state title in 1946. Once at Illinois he won three Big Ten titles in his first five seasons ('49, '51 and '52). It was also Combes who led the Fighting Illini to three third-place finishes in the NCAA Tournament in the four-year period from 1949-52. The squad won 79 of the 100 games during those four years. Illinois' 1952 Final Four appearance was the first officially recognized Final Four and the only Final Four appearance Illinois made until 1989. Until Lou Henson broke the record in 1990, Combes' 316 wins were the most wins ever by an Illinois head basketball coach.
Harv Schmidt (7 years, 89-77, .536)
Harv Schmidt, a former all-time great player at Illinois, returned to his alma mater in 1968 after serving as an assistant at New Mexico for three years. Within three years of his arrival, he had brought Illinois back to among the elite programs in the Big Ten. The beginning of his tenure marked what possibly was the high-water mark in fan enthusiasm. Illinois led the nation in attendance in 1970, averaging 16,128 per home contest, as students routinely camped out for tickets outside the newly opened, state-of-the-art Assembly Hall.
Gene Bartow (1 year, 8-18, .308)
Brought to Illinois to continue the magical rebuilding jobs he had undertaken at Valparaiso and Memphis State, Gene Bartow was counted on by Athletic Director Cecil Coleman to restore the successful level of play fans had become accustomed to in the past few decades. However, Bartow's stay in Champaign was short-lived, lasting only one year and producing an 8-18 record. The lure away from Illinois was a strong one for Bartow; he was hired away by UCLA to replace legendary Bruin coach John Wooden.
Lou Henson (21 years, 423-224, .654)
Lou Henson, the all-time winningest coach in Illinois basketball history, came to Champaign-Urbana after successful head coaching stints at Hardin-Simmons and New Mexico State Universities. He finished his Illini career No. 12 on the NCAA all-time victory list with 663 wins. Illinois became a national power under Henson, being selected to the NCAA tournament 11 times. The highlight of the postseason competition came in 1989 when the spectacular Flying Illini team won a school-record 31 contests and advanced to the Final Four. Henson's Illini were also seeded among the top four in their regional for six consecutive years (1984-89) for the second-longest such streak (next to North Carolina) ever. Illinois finished in the upper division in the Big Ten nine consecutive seasons (1983-91), and had 11 straight years of producing a plus-.500 Big Ten record from 1981 to 1991, the fifth-longest streak of that kind in Big Ten history. Henson led the Illini to a 1984 Big Ten co-championship and No. 1 national ranking in 1989. He coached Illinois to nine straight 20-win seasons from 1983 to 1991and finished his career as the third-winningest coach in Big Ten history with 214 victories.
Lon Kruger (4 years, 81-48, .628)
Lon Kruger was named the 14th men’s basketball coach at the University of Illinois on March 21, 1996, succeeding Lou Henson, who retired after 21 seasons at Illinois. Kruger came to Champaign-Urbana after six seasons at Florida, where he led the Gators to their first Final Four in 1994. His previous head coaching experience includes a four -year stint at his alma mater Kansas State (1987-90) and at Pan American (1983-86). In 1998, Kruger led the Illini to a share of the Big Ten championship, the school’s first since 1984. He guided Illinois to NCAA Tournament appearances in 1997, 1998 and 2000. Following the 2000 season, Kruger left Illinois to become the head coach of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.
Bill Self (3 years, 78-24, .765)
Bill Self was named the 15th men's basketball coach at the University of Illinois on June 9, 2000, succeeding Lon Kruger, who was named head coach of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. Self came to Champaign-Urbana after three seasons at Tulsa, where he led the Golden Hurricane to an NCAA Final Eight appearance in 2000. His previous head coaching experience included a four-year stint at Oral Roberts (1994-97). Self became the first Big Ten coach since 1912 to win Big Ten titles in each of his first two seasons. In his first season, Self led the Illini to a share of the Big Ten championship and a trip to the NCAA Final Eight after the squad earned a No. 1 seed. Illinois' 27 wins in 2001 were the second-most in school history. His second team saw the Illini again share the Big Ten title and advance to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen with a 26-9 record. With 25 wins in his third season, Self compiled 78 wins, most ever in three-consecutive seasons at Illinois. Illinois won its first Big Ten Tournament title in 2003 and finished with a 25-7 mark. He left Illinois to become the head coach at Kansas following the 2003 season.
Bruce Weber (1st year)
Bruce Weber was named the 16th men's basketball coach in Illinois history on April 30, 2003. Weber came to Illinois after compiling an 103-54 mark after five seasons at Southern Illinois from 1999-2003, leading the Salukis to Missouri Valley Conference titles in 2002 and 2003. In 2002, Weber led SIU to a 28-8 overall record as the Salukis advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament. He has extensive experience in the Big Ten Conference following 18 years as an assistant coach at Purdue under Gene Keady, helping the Boilermakers to six Big Ten championships and 17 postseason appearances.