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Bruce Weber fired at Illinois

Illinois head coach Bruce Weber reacts second half an NCAA college basketball game against Iowfirst round Big Ten Conference tournament

Illinois head coach Bruce Weber reacts in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa at the first round of the Big Ten Conference tournament in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 8, 2012. Iowa won 64-61. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

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Updated: March 9, 2012 5:13PM

CHAMPAIGN—Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas made it official Friday, firing Bruce Weber less than 24 hours after the men’s basketball team lost its opening game in the Big Ten tournament.

`` It’s difficult to make these decisions when you’re talking about a quality person like Bruce Weber,’’ Thomas said. ``However, when making decisions of this magnitude, there are many things that need to be considered, including the direction of the program in terms of wins and losses, competitiveness in the Big Ten and fan support.’’

Assistant coach Jerrance Howard will serve as interim coach until a new coach is hired, Thomas said. Howard will direct the team if it ends up playing in the NIT.

Weber, who has three years remaining on his $1.5 million a year contract, will receive a buyout of $3.9 million, or $1.3 million a year.

Weber leaves Illinois with a nine-year record of 201-101, including Big Ten championships in 2004 and 2005, with a trip to the national championship game in 2005, when Illinois was 37-2.

However, the Illini (17-15, 6-12) lost 12 of their last 14 games this season, leaving them with a record of 50-56 in Big Ten play the last six years. During that time, Illinois missed the NCAA tournament three times, and managed only one NCAA victory.

``It was really how we were trending,’’ Thomas said. ``I looked at the total body of work. It’s not the last three or four months, or the last month. There’s no doubt, early in coach Weber’s tenure, we had great success. But in the last four or five years, we were running in place or maybe even digressed. It’s important that we’re playing at the highest level. We’re about winning championships.’’

Weber is the third coach fired since November by Thomas, who was hired in August. Football coach Ron Zook ($2.6 million) and women’s basketball coach Jolette Law ($620,000) also have been dismissed. Their combined buyouts are more than $7 million.

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