Wild Speculation: Who Is Going to Replace Sue Novitsky at Illinois?

Braden Keith
by Braden Keith 38

March 22nd, 2022 News

There is a head coaching opening in the Big Ten Conference, at the University of Illinois, and that means it’s time to wildly speculate on replacements.

The school has been at-or-near the bottom of the Big Ten standings for most of the last 30 years. The last time Illinois beat more than one team at the Big Ten Championships was 2012 (10th out of 12 teams), and the last time they beat 3-or-more Big Ten teams was 2002 (8th out of 11 teams).

But in the 1990s, Illinois was a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team for a period, finishing as high as 6-out-of-11 in 1997.

While they haven’t had much recent Big Ten Championship success in the pool, this is still a well-paying job relative to most Division I single-gender programs. Sue Novitsky made $99,534 in 109, according to public record data. That is higher than most mid-major coaches make.

That makes this a fairly-interesting job, and could be an opportunity for either a Power 5 assistant to get their first head coaching gig or a mid-major head coach to climb the ladder into a bigger conference.

While not a bad salary for where Illinois sits in the world: there is a limit on the Power 5 assistant discussion. Top assistants at many programs are making 6 figures: Michigan’s top assistant Josh White, for example, is contracted for $130,000 this year. So, from the big programs, we might be looking at a lower-rung assistant coach.

So who could be a good fit here? In part, it depends on what happens with the USC job. If Trojan alumnus Ray Looze winds up in LA, which many suspect he might, that will set off a bit of a midwestern chain reaction – with Indiana likely to need to settle before Illinois can expect its full complement of candidates.

The Local Choice – Kaitlyn Ferguson, Illinois Assistant Coach

While Elliott McGill, the program’s long-time assistant, left college coaching after last season, the program brought in Kaitlyn Ferguson as an assistant. She has been climbing the coaching ladder, moving into the college world in 2017. She was the head assistant coach at Marshall for a year, spent three seasons as an assistant/recruiting coordinator at Penn, and now one season at Illinois.

It feels a year or two early for her to take over a Big Ten program, but it wouldn’t be an outlandish choice.

Former Big Ten Assistant – Dave Rollins, Head Coach, FGCU

Rollins, once an All-American swimmer at the University of Arizona, has spent the last 6 seasons at Florida Gulf Coast. There, he coached an honorable mention All-American breaststroke Petra Halmai. Illinois hasn’t had an Honorable Mention All-American since Barbie Viney in 2005.

Rollins was previously an associate head coach of the men’s team at Ohio State. He might be waiting for a job to open at his alma mater Arizona, or some other sunnier pasture, but this is a chance to jump back into the Power 5 for him and continue his climb up the coaching ladder.

Nearby Success Story – Holly Bonewit-Cron, Head Coach, Miami University

Bonewit-Cron has not been without critics for her style at Miami (OH), but her success is undeniable. The Miami women finished 3rd at the MAC Championships this season, while the Miami men have won two straight MAC titles.

She has definitely improved that program, and Illinois needs some fresh energy to really hit their potential. Bonewit-Cron has taken Miami to levels that they haven’t seen in a long time. She has some recruiting inroads in the Chicago suburbs, which would be crucial for rebuilding this program, with 6 current Illinoisians on her roster at Miami.

The Indiana Assistants (Current/Former) – Emily Eaton, Indiana Women’s Recruiting Coordinator/Assistant & Caitlin Hamilton, Head Coach, Illinois State

Whether Looze leaves Indiana or not, Eaton could be a logical fit for this job. She’s got midwestern roots (she swam in college at Grand Valley State and grew up in Michigan), and landed Indiana the #13 recruiting class in the class of 2021 last season.

When Eaton took that job at Indiana, she replaced Caitlin Hamilton, who left to take over as the head coach at Illinois State. Illinois State is only an hour away, so it would be an easy move. Hamilton has been at Illinois State for three seasons, and in February led the team to a 2nd-place finish at the Missouri Valley Conference Championships. That was two spots better than they were picked in the pre-season poll, and was their best finish since 2014.

Three seasons seems to be the minimum timeline before coaches are willing to make that jump, and Hamilton has both Illinois recruiting contacts and Big Ten experience.

To me, Hamilton probably makes the most sense right now, but I don’t think this is a job that happens in isolation – so once the dominoes start to fall, we’ll have a better guess.

The Wildcard – Roric Fink, Assistant Coach, SMU

After 8 seasons with the Texas women, Fink spent about a season back in the club world at the Austin Swim Club before leaving under a cloud of conflict with club ownership. He’s now on deck with the SMU men.

Fink was once one of the hottest names in coaching. He’s well-liked nationally, and it feels like he’s going to wind up in a collegiate head coaching gig somewhere. While there’s no real geographic logic, this somehow just feels like the kind of gig that could be a good fit for his next act.

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Bignowhere
8 months ago
Dave Ramos
10 months ago

HBC would do great things at Illinois with her binder of recycled Gregg Troy workouts that she got while she was at Florida. They’ve obviously worked during her time at Miami. Lots of potential hires in this though!

Ghost of Dave Remos
10 months ago

“Bonewit-Cron has not been without critics”

Understatement of the Century! Who has met someone with anything positive to say about this coach? The fact that you’re highlighting a 3rd place finish is a slap in the face to the RedHawk alumni who know the school and athletic department make Miami easily the most desirable place to swim in the MAC. The only thing holding them back is their Head Coach. It would be the best news in years for Miami, if Bonewit-Cron were to leave. For any reason!

Sincerely,

Ghost of Dave Remos

RedhawkMom
Reply to  Ghost of Dave Remos
9 months ago

You clearly haven’t talked to me. I have plenty of great things to say about HBC, as the parent of an athlete that swims for her.

Dave Ramos
Reply to  RedhawkMom
9 months ago

Of course I haven’t. I do t anyone named redhawk mom. But share the goods redhawk mom!!

‘bout IT
10 months ago

Roric Fink is the only coach of substance on this list. If he’s interested, in any job, he would be a home run hire. The rest of this list lacks the proven track record of success or polish that Roric has.

coach
10 months ago

At some point, Rachel Stratton-Mills deserves a head coaching gig.

Negative Nora (they/them)
Reply to  coach
10 months ago

Did you see the ASU women at NCAAs this week?

SEC
Reply to  Negative Nora (they/them)
10 months ago

They had a great season overall. 4 days shouldn’t depict an entire season of work. She deserves a shot

I_Said_It
Reply to  SEC
10 months ago

Except that’s the 4 most important days of the season.

MikeS
10 months ago

The real question is how important is the success of women’s swimming to the athletic department? The fact that they have allowed the program to perpetually remain at the bottom of the Big10, makes me wonder how much they really care.  It doesn’t matter how good the coach is if the if the program isn’t a priority for the athletic department.  Does anyone know if the program is currently fully funded with the maximum number of scholarships?  

Swim3057
Reply to  MikeS
10 months ago

The Athletic Director has been on a quest for several years to start a Mens Ice Hockey program and that was delayed by the pandemic. Along with football and basketball that is their 24/7 focus. It’s unfortunate as this is a talent rich state compared to their peers in the B10 to attract strong swimmers from.

Coach
Reply to  Swim3057
10 months ago

Good news would be, if they are looking to add a men’s sport, probably makes it less likely they will drop a women’s sport.

Swimmom
Reply to  Swim3057
10 months ago

The program is fully funded.

Coach Cwik
Reply to  MikeS
10 months ago

Exactly the situation. Current program doesn’t make waves and the AD is happy. Sounds a bit like the Pittsburgh situation. Bottom of the ACC each year, but the AD doesn’t care.

swimmer
Reply to  MikeS
10 months ago

I believe they do not. There have been multiple swimmers over the past several years who signed but never appeared on the roster or competed for the school, but the spots on the team were never filled.

Last edited 10 months ago by swimmer
Swimmernaia
10 months ago

Scott Teeters should apply.

swimtothemoon24
10 months ago

Too small time for Ron Aitken to get considered?

Riccardo
Reply to  swimtothemoon24
10 months ago

Why would he leave a team where he could have an individual Olympic champion in 2 years for a college program that is a huge rebuild?

He’s not going anywhere unless the job is better for his career than having Grimes on top of the Podium in Paris.

sam
Reply to  swimtothemoon24
10 months ago

being good club coach has nothing to do with college, different worlds

DP Spellman
Reply to  sam
10 months ago

Plus, It would be a big pay cut for some club coaches who work for bigger & successful club teams.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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