Long list of problems face new Illinois athletic director
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Josh Whitman will be taking on a long list of problems when he steps in as the new athletic director at the University of Illinois.
The Associated Press and others reported Tuesday that the 37-year-old Whitman, who played football at Illinois from 1997-2000, will become the new AD at his alma mater. He has not spoken about the move and the university has yet to formally introduce him.
Whitman will be moving from athletic director at Division III Washington University and walking into problems that are part of almost a full year of controversy in sports and elsewhere at Illinois.
A look at what he faces:
REPAIRNG THE DAMAGE
Before the new AD attends a game or considers the performance of any coach or team, he'll need to start formulating a plan to convince fans, donors and anyone else who pays attention to Illini athletics that the problems of the past year are in the past.
There's a lot of damage to undo, from the hit the football program took when former coach Tim Beckman was fired in August to the November firing of the last athletic director, Mike Thomas.
Everything from the wait for a replacement for Thomas to the decision to give Bill Cubit a short-term, two-year contract to replace Beckman – not to mention losing seasons in football and, so far, basketball – has unsettled fans.
STATE OF MEN'S BASKETBALL
As far team performance, men's basketball will confront Whitman first.
In coach John Groce's fourth season, the Illini are 12-14 (4-9 Big Ten) and on the verge of missing a third straight NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1978-80.
After a first-year trip to the tournament, it's mostly been downhill for Groce – a Thomas hire.
Some fans are already calling for Groce to be fired.
But Groce has dealt with a rash of injuries. Starters Tracy Abrams, Mike Thorne Jr. and Leron Black have missed all or most of this season with injuries. Seven different Illini players have combined to miss 74 games.
The allegations against Beckman and findings of a university-hired law firm that led to his firing a week before the season began remain a black eye for the program. It's also something Cubit has said other schools use against the Illini in recruiting. Combine that with Cubit's short-term contract and convincing better players than the ones that have gone 17-32 over the past four seasons to come to Illinois will be a challenge.
Cubit's contract also ensures that, if Illinois wanted to fire him after one season, his buyout would be as little as $250,000.
Depending on the results, Whitman could be facing a decision on Cubit late this year.
WOMEN'S BASKETBALL CHALLENGES
The lawsuit filed by seven former players, some black and some white, accuses coach Matt Bollant and a former staff member of creating a racially hostile environment for some black players and those who were close to them
The university has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit but no decision has been made. A law firm hired by the university found no evidence Bollant had done anything wrong.
The team is currently 8-17 (1-13).
No matter the outcome of the lawsuit, the accusations within it continue to hang over the university and contributed to a sense last year that – with the top administrator, Chancellor Phyllis Wise, unexpectedly resigning – the campus was in chaos.
LOOKING FOR A LEADER
Wise does not yet have a permanent replacement, which means Whitman will not know who his boss is until someone is hired. For now he will report to interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson.
University President Timothy Killeen, a key figure in the searches for both a new AD and chancellor, has said the school plans to have a permanent chancellor hired in time for the start of fall classes.
How free Whitman will be to make serious moves before he has a permanent boss is unknown.