CHAMPAIGN -- With VCU basketball coach Shaka Smart rejecting an offer from Illinois Wednesday, there's one thing to do. Exhale. Then get started on the legwork to determine where Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas goes for Plan B in his search to fill the vacancy created after firing Bruce Weber on March 9.



 

CHAMPAIGN -- With VCU basketball coach Shaka Smart rejecting an offer from Illinois Wednesday, there's one thing to do.

Exhale.

Then get started on the legwork to determine where Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas goes for Plan B in his search to fill the vacancy created after firing Bruce Weber on March 9.

Smart said he isn't pursuing any job offers, according to the VCU.

"I am very grateful for the support and belief in the coaching staff and basketball program that comes from the very top of our university's leadership ... as well as our phenomenal fans,'' Smart said in a statement released through VCU. "There are great things to accomplish at VCU, and I'm looking forward to building on the successes of our program and university.''

Smart has agreed in principle to some changes in his current contract that pays him $1.2 million annually, plus bonuses, the school said.

While VCU kept its man, Thomas must land a coach who doesn't mind being a second choice after offering Smart $2.5 million per season, according to a report.

Alabama coach Anthony Grant has been mentioned as a possibility, perhaps a leading contender behind Smart, but a source said he wasn't interested. His name would present an interesting twist. Crimson Tide associate head coach Dan Hipsher was fired as Akron coach by Thomas in 2004. As an assistant, Hipsher recruited Grant to Dayton and offered Grant his first college coaching job at Stetson.

But basketball will never be the top dog at Alabama. His buyout would be $1.47 million.

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton isn't interested in the job, according to an ESPN report. Hamilton, whose Seminoles won the ACC Tournament this month before losing to Cincinnati in their second NCAA tournament game, is a respected recruiter.

Washington's Lorenzo Romar and South Florida's Stan Heath are other possible African-American candidates. Marquette's Buzz Williams, Kansas State's Frank Martin and Baylor's Scott Drew would likely take some cash to persuade them to come here.

Duke assistant coach Chris Collins is interested, said a source. The former Glenbrook North High School guard has never been a head coach.

Ohio coach John Groce is a former assistant under Thad Matta at Ohio State, Xavier and Butler. He has shown great interest in the job, according to a college coach, and the Bobcats reached the Sweet 16 this season. Xavier coach Chris Mack has a solid track record, but would Thomas -- a former Cincinnati AD -- hire a guy from his former rival?

It might be impossible for Illinois to create the same buzz with its hire that surrounded Smart, who was already just Shaka to Illini fans. He was always considered the first target because of the working relationship built between Thomas and Smart during their days together at Akron, where Thomas was a first-time athletic director and Smart an assistant coach.

With four starters returning from a team that won 29 games and reached the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament, Smart likely thinks his shelf life will remain so he can attract other job offers in the future.

When CBS/Turner sports announced Wednesday morning Smart would be in the studio Thursday through Saturday for the networks' coverage of the NCAA tournament, it was another hint he wouldn't be coming to Illinois. By early afternoon, the word was on the street.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnSupinie.