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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Kellis Robinett

Brad Underwood gets lucrative extension at Illinois after Kansas State coaching search

The world may never know if Brad Underwood seriously considered the thought of leaving Illinois for Kansas State when the Wildcats expressed interest in hiring him as their new men’s basketball coach earlier this month.

But one thing is clear: Underwood profited off of K-State’s coaching search.

Less than a week after the Wildcats hired former Baylor associate head coach Jerome Tang to replace Bruce Weber, the Fighting Illini announced a lucrative raise and extension that will keep Underwood under contract at Illinois until 2028.

The new deal comes with an extra $500,000 per year. Underwood made $4.1 million in total compensation this past season, making him one of the 10 highest paid coaches in college basketball.

Underwood just finished his fifth season with Illinois. He has guided his team to 94 victories and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances. This season, the Fighting Illini shared the Big Ten regular season championship with Wisconsin.

Sources have indicated that K-State used back channels to express interest in Underwood during its coaching search and floated potential salary numbers to him and his agent. K-State athletics director Gene Taylor never spoke directly to Underwood, as Underwood was unavailable to discuss other jobs while he coached Illinois in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Underwood was viewed as a dream candidate by many fans, because of his ties to the Wildcats. He grew up in nearby McPherson, played at K-State while he was in college and also served as an assistant under Frank Martin.

Did he want to come home or continue building something at Illinois?

When he was asked about the K-State job, Underwood gave reporters a vague response.

“I would never discuss anything professionally with you guys like that,” he said. “But, man, I love Illinois. We’ve got the best fans, I’ve got a great boss, we’ve got a top 10 program and we’re winning Big Ten championships. I’m very singular, as you guys know. I can’t control what people say and what people think. I’m not worried about that.”

His answer now seems clear.

It is unknown how much mutual interest there was between K-State and Underwood. But things seemed to work out for both parties.

As K-State’s coaching search went on, Taylor spoke informally with seven candidates but he focused on Tang when it became clear he was the front-runner for the job. Taylor flew with a team of K-State advisors to Waco, Texas, and offered Tang the position before Illinois played its second game in the NCAA Tournament.

Waiting to make a formal run at Underwood was not in the cards.

Tang was K-State’s first choice. The Wildcats gave him a six-year contract worth $14.1 million. Then he pumped excitement into the fan base at an introductory news conference in Manhattan.

A few days later, Underwood also got a new contract. Some might credit K-State with an assist.

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