The University of Illinois’ long search for a permanent athletic director has apparently come to an end. Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune is reporting that former football player Josh Whitman will be hired to be the next AD at his alma mater.
Whitman isn’t just a former football player, but comes to the head of the Illini athletic program as a seasoned administrator as well. He leaves behind the same position at D3 Washington University in St. Louis for this job, but is also familiar with the inner workings of Illini athletics having served as the coordinator of special projects within the Illini athletic program for three years (2005-08).
Before his time at Washington University, he also was the head of the athletic department at Wisconsin-La Crosse for four years.
According to the report, Whitman won out over current Florida Atlantic AD Patrick Chun.
What may be most important is that Whitman is a winner and a master financier as well. In his time at UW-La Crosse, the program grabbed four national championships and 21 conference titles. At Washington University he headed up a $55 million fundraising effort for a new recreation center on campus.
All of this hopefully brings an end to an ugly period in Illini athletic history, as Whitman will come in on the heels of a nasty set of scandals including alleged player mistreatment by Tim Beckman and alleged player mistreatment and discrimination within the basketball program.
Whitman will come in to the program with plenty of major decisions ahead of him, but little in the way of massive fundraising efforts to head up. Perhaps tops of his list is going to be the fate of men’s basketball head coach John Groce, along with the short-term deal for football head coach Bill Cubit.
The later is likely to be dealt with in the longer term than Groce’s situation, which looks bleak at best. Currently the Illini sit at 11-14 overall and just 3-9 in conference play, which would mean the third losing season in conference play in Groce’s four years at the helm of the program.
Groce’s lone non-losing season was last year’s 9-9 B1G record, and unless the Illini run the table the rest of the regular season it won’t have a shot to tie that high-water mark.
This process became daunting after plenty of options fell to the wayside.
Northern Illinois AD Sean Frazier declined to move forward in the process after an initial interview, sources told Ryan, and Illinois also interviewed Eastern Illinois AD Tom Michael, Central Michigan AD Dave Heeke and Maryland deputy AD Kelly Mehrtens.
Whitman is expected to be formally introduced later in the week, and his task of reshaping the image of Illini athletics will perhaps be even more daunting than the search that led to his hire in the first place.