By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Staff Writer
September 16, 2021
(Cover photo courtesy Sports Illustrated)
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The University of Illinois is committed to having Brad Underwood stay in Champaign for the foreseeable future.
The men’s basketball head coach signed a contract extension that, pending approval for the university board of trustees, will have Underwood signed to coach the Illini through the 2026-27 season.
(Underwood) is as steadfast in his quest to build a championship program here at the University of Illinois as he was on March 18, 2017,” Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman said in a university release. “I am grateful to Brad, Susan and their entire family for the commitment they have made to the University of Illinois. I am excited to continue working alongside him on this journey and look forward to his leadership over these next six years and beyond."
The proposed six-year, $25.6 million contract, which has been signed by Underwood and Whitman, will move Underwood’s total annual compensation into the top 10 nationally among Division I head coach and is fully guaranteed through the next four seasons. Most importantly to Illini fans, who have seen Lon Kruger and Bill Self leave the Illini program almost immediately after taking the team to Big Ten Conference championships, the price Underwood the university to accept employment elsewhere increases every year of the contract as well. The deal will also include similar bonus opportunities as Underwood’s last contract extension for advancement in the NCAA Tournament and other agreed-upon metrics.
"It was just four years ago that we brought Coach Underwood here with the vision he and I shared of returning Illinois Basketball to national prominence, and he has delivered," Whitman said. “Coach's tenants of hard work, accountability, toughness and team-first mindset are just a few of the principles he has instilled in our student-athletes. Coach, his staff and the players have relentlessly maintained their high expectations, and the results have followed, culminating with the most victories in the Big Ten Conference over the last two years, a 2021 Big Ten Tournament title, and an NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed.”
The financial details of the contract have Underwood earning a $4.1 million annual salary for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 season. The annual salary goes up by $100,000 for each of the four remaining years of the deal. The buyout language in the contract states specifically that if a school wanted to hire Underwood away from Illinois, the university would require a buyout payment of at least $2 million for each of the next four seasons and $4 million payment in each of the next four seasons if a school in the Big Ten Conference wants to hire Underwood away from Illinois. Should Illinois want to terminate Underwood without cause, the current Illini coach would be in line for an immediate $3 million payment or a payment equal to what is remaining on Underwood’s contract.
Underwood's fourth season at Illinois produced one of the best seasons in school history. The Illini went 16-4 in conference play to mark its winningest Big Ten season. The Illini went on to win the Big Ten Tournament, earning the program's first conference tournament title since 2005. The total of 19 wins against conference foes in 2021 also set a school record. Illinois earned the fourth NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed in school history after winning 14 of 15 games over a two-month stretch leading into NCAA March Madness. The remarkable run included seven wins over ranked teams, with five coming against top-10 opponents.
"It is the honor of a lifetime to be the head coach here at the University of Illinois. The history, the players, and the passionate fan base are part of what makes this job so special,” Underwood said in a university release. “I'm proud of our players and staff for what we've accomplished to date. But to be blunt, that's over. We are in a hyper-competitive climate where anyone who rests on accomplishments gets left behind. So we have to keep pushing forward. Yet the foundation of our philosophy remains.”
Illinois finished the season with a total of six victories over top-10 teams, breaking the previous school record of five set by the 1989 Flyin' Illini. Illinois led the country with 12 Quad 1 wins and a combined 17 wins in Quads 1 and 2. The Illini also won nine road games, leading all high-major conference teams.
Illinois made its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in eight years, advancing to the Round of 32 to finish with a record of 24-7. Illinois ended the season at No. 4 in Kenpom's team adjusted efficiency margin, the second-highest rating ever for the program. The Illini excelled on both sides of the ball, one of three teams nationally to rank in the top 10 in both offensive (8th) and defensive (7th) efficiency. Illinois is now 29-11 (.726) in Big Ten play the last two years of the Underwood era, owning both the most wins and best winning percentage in the league over the last two seasons.
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