Heading into his second season as head coach at the University of Illinois in 2013-14, Matt Bollant has begun to revive a dormant Illini program. He led the Orange and Blue to the postseason for the first time in three years in 2013 and Illinois finished with a winning Big Ten record for the first time in 10 seasons. He also spearheaded the composition of a top-25 recruiting class despite having only seven months between being hired at Illinois and National Signing Day.
In 2012-13, the Illini reached the WNIT quarterfinals, beat three ranked opponents - including No. 6 Georgia - and saw attendance at the Assembly Hall increase 80 percent from 2011-12 to an average of 1,926, the third-highest average attendance increase in Division I women's basketball.
The Illini broke the Big Ten record for steals, steals per game and turnovers forced in a conference season, and also shattered the school records for steals and three-pointers made in a season. Senior forward Karisma Penn became one of the country's most dominant post players, averaging 19.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.9 steals, 2.2 blocked shots per game and 50.6 percent field-goal shooting, all of which rank in the top five in the Big Ten. She was named an Associated Press honorable mention All-American and also earned two national player of the week honors.
Bollant came to Illinois after a successful five-year stint at Green Bay, where he guided the Phoenix to five straight Horizon League titles and four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Bollant guided Green Bay to a 148-19 record (.886 winning percentage) in five years, including an 85-5 mark in the Horizon League. The Phoenix were a combined 65-4 in his final two seasons in Green Bay, going 34-2 in 2010-11. Green Bay was ranked as high as No. 9 in the national polls in both 2010-11 and 2011-12, finishing the 2011 season with that ranking. In 2010-11, Green Bay went 4-0 against the Big Ten, defeating Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State. In 2011-12, the Phoenix downed Illinois 82-62 at the San Juan Shootout and had triumphs over No. 25 Georgia Tech - a team that reached the Sweet 16 - Marquette and Wisconsin.
"It's hard to find a coach in the country with a better reputation for winning than Matt Bollant," University of Illinois director of athletics Mike Thomas said. "He has a proven track record of tremendous success both at the conference and at the national level. He is truly one of the best and brightest young coaches in the women's game today and I consider it an honor to have him at the University of Illinois. I have no doubt that he has the experience and intangibles to duplicate that success in Champaign."
"The opportunity to coach in the Big Ten and at such a prestigious institution like the University of Illinois is very exciting for me," Bollant said on the day of his hiring at Illinois. "I enjoyed my years at Green Bay and am proud of the success we had there. I couldn't ask for a better relationship with a group of people. Having said that, my family and I are at peace with this decision. Illinois is simply the right fit. The pieces are in place here to be competitive both in the Big Ten and nationally. It is an honor be the next coach at Illinois. I want to thank Athletic Director Mike Thomas for having the confidence in me to lead this program."
Green Bay had four wins over ranked opponents from 2008-12, including a 65-56 victory over No. 12/13 Michigan State in the 2011 NCAA Second Round. The Phoenix entered the tournament as a No. 5 seed, defeating the No. 4 Spartans to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time school history. Green Bay also defeated No. 21 Virginia 69-67 in the first round of the 2010 tournament.
Green Bay lost to Iowa State in Ames by just four points (60-56) in the NCAA second round in 2010. In 2011, Green Bay returned to the site for NCAA first and second round play. Entering the tournament as the No. 7 seed, the Phoenix defeated the No. 10 seed Cyclones on the their home floor, 71-57, before seeing a comeback fall short against No. 2 seed Kentucky (65-62) in the second round.
Bollant was named the Horizon League Coach of the Year for the fourth time in 2012, guiding Green Bay to a 31-2 record despite losing Horizon League co-Players of the Year Kayla Tetschlag and Celeste Hoewisch. Senior Julie Wojta was a finalist for the Wade Trophy and earned WBCA Second Team All-America honors.
His last two teams at Green Bay finished the season ranked 10th and 13th, respectively, in the final coaches poll. The Phoenix also had success in the classroom, topping the WBCA's list of top team GPAs in 2011-12 (3.616) after ranking 19th in that category the previous year.
Bollant has an .837 winning percentage as a collegiate coach, including a 134-36 record at Bryan (Tenn.) College from the NAIA level. He guided the Lady Lions to four straight NAIA Tournaments, reaching the Sweet 16 in 2005-06. Bryan reached the top 25 rankings each of his last four years, reaching as high as No. 11 at the end of the 2006-07 season. Bollant coached four Appalachian Athletic Conference Players of the Year.
Bollant was as an assistant coach under Kathi Bennett, the daughter of former Wisconsin men's coach Dick Bennett, for five seasons before becoming a collegiate head coach. He served three years under Bennett at the University of Evansville, helping the Purple Aces to the 1999 NCAA Tournament, then followed her to Indiana, where the Hoosiers became the lowest seed (5) to win the Big Ten Tournament in 2002.
A 1994 graduate of Winona State University with a degree in business education, Bollant received a master's degree in education from American Intercontinental University. He served as both the varsity and junior varsity head coach of Depper Life Academy in the Philippines and spent three years as the head coach at Tigerton (Wis.) High School, guiding the Tigers to a 63-10 record and to three Central Wisconsin Conference Small School titles from 1994-97.
He and his wife, Kari, have two daughters, Abi and Regan.
What They're Saying
"I'm very happy for Matt. He's a first-class person. First and foremost, he's a very good guy. I have not coached against many tougher teams in my career than the Green Bay team we faced in the NCAA Tournament. Illinois made an excellent choice. I think he is a coach at the very top of our profession and I think he'll do a great job at Illinois."
"Matt is a great choice to lead the Illinois program. He will do a great job of building a program on and off the court that will make everyone associated with the University of Illinois proud."
THE BOLLANT FILE
Hired: March 28, 2012
Bollant Collegiate Head Coaching Record
* Appalachian Athletic Conference at Bryan, Horizon League at Green Bay
Bollant Coaching Honors