Picture your favorite coach. They led your alma mater to the highest point in your lifetime.
That coach left for another job, which didn't bother you because it was a better job. That didn't work out, however, so theywent to one of your biggest rivals. Can you picture that?
Kentucky fans in my generation had to do this with Rick Pitino, but it doesn't happen often in college basketball.So of course it happened to me.
John Groce could have taken any other job in the NCAA. He could've taken any other job in the Mid-American Conference other than Miami or Kent State. But Akron? I don't have the appropriate meme or GIF, mainly because that meme or GIF wouldn't be appropriate in this setting. Akron? That appears to be a done deal, according to Cleveland.com.
John Groce at Akron? Ouch.
— Chris Littmann (@chrislittmann) April 5, 2017
Ouch.Groce's best work as a college basketball coach to date came at with my alma mater atOhio. Groce went 85-56 from 2008-2012, and that included two NCAA memorable NCAA tournament runs. At least they were memorable for those of us whose best tournament memory to that point was watching Gary Trent —"The Shaq of the MAC"—fall short against Indiana in the 1994 NCAA tournament. I'll openly admit that I'm a 37-year-old man who owns a No. 20 Trent "shirsey" that feels like sandpaper because I don't wash it once the MAC tournament starts until the Bobcats are eliminated. That's a fact.
It's also a fact Ohio enjoyed some fantastic March moments under Groce. In 2010, the Bobcats routed Georgetown 97-83 in a 3-14 upset for their first tournament victory since 1983. In 2012, Ohio beat Michigan and South Florida to advance to the Sweet 16 before taking North Carolina to the limit in a 73-65 overtime loss. Sporting News ranked the 55 greatest first-round upsets before this year's tournament. The wins against the Hoyas and Wolverines are on that list asunforgettable games.
When you go to a MAC school, a Sweet 16 feels like a Final Four. I took pictures of the scoreboard when Ohio took the lead inthe second half and texted it to my college roommate. Or he might have texted it to me. We were both so excited it's one of the few times I can't remember anything other than the final few minutes. It was good to feel 21 in your 30s. It's Court Street all over again.
Groce was responsible for that. Had the Bobcats beat the Tar Heels that night —and they had a chance before Harrison Barnes spoiled the moment in the final seconds of regulation—I would've put that on par as a fan with the Green Bay Packers winning two Super Bowls. That would have felt like a national championship.
Speaking of the Packers, I watched Brett Favre leave for another job that wasn't a better job before going to the biggest rival. That is essentially what Groce has done after five seasons at Illinois. Akron? I would rather he went to Miami or Kent State, and my wife went to Kent State.
It's a sound hire for Akron after Keith Dambrot's departure. The Zips have won 20-plus games each of the last 12 seasons, and Groce will undoubtedly keep it that way because he knows Ohio and the MAC. Groce is a good coach and it's a good move, but I don't have to like it.
That's going to heat up a rivalry that doesn't really need it. It'sbeen Akron for me since Jan. 30, 2002, when Andy Hipsher hit a 3-pointer to beat the Bobcats in The Convo and let the student section have it. Had inappropriate memes and GIFs been available at that point in time, I'm sure I would have used them at the time. It's been the MAC's best basketball rivalry ever since, and Groce helped tilt the balance in the Bobcats' favor.
The Bobcats and Zips played in the MAC championship game in 2010, 2012 and 2013, and Akron won the year after Groce left. Saul Phillips will be in his fourth season at Ohio looking for that first tournament appearance. It's going to be hot when these teams meet next season, just like it was when Pitino faced Kentucky and Favre faced the Vikings. It's good for this rivalr, and it's good for the MAC.
It might not cause a stir nationally, but wait until these teams meet for a MAC championship. Ohio grads will care, or at least they should. Akron?
No matter how many times you ask why Groce went there, the answer doesn't seem real. At least it won't until the first time Groce walks into The Convo and takes the visitor's sideline. I can't picture that yet.
Maybe I'll ask a Kentucky fan how it feels instead.