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Illinois hires Korn Ferry to assist with athletic director search

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The world's largest executive search firm will aid in Illinois' hunt for a new AD.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois' search for a new athletic director has taken another turn. On Wednesday afternoon, the university announced the hiring of Korn Ferry to assist the school's pre-appointed search committee in identifying potential candidates. The move comes 37 days after Mike Thomas was fired without cause.

Korn Ferry, which is the world's largest executive search firm, has also assisted in the hiring of high-level athletic administrators and head coaches at Michigan, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and other universities.

Here's the full press release:

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has hired Korn Ferry, the world’s largest executive search firm, to assist with the search for a new director of athletics.

Chancellor Barbara Wilson announced the decision today after the university completed the search firm procurement process, which began in mid-November. "My hope all along was to identify a firm that had the experience and network to add value to our efforts," Wilson said. "Korn Ferry will play a crucial role in conducting an effective, comprehensive and confidential process of interacting with top-quality candidates for this vital and sought-after campus role."

Korn Ferry will support the search committee, which is chaired by professor Matt Wheeler, the faculty athletic representative. Wilson said the additional expertise will serve as a valuable resource to the committee in its recommendation of top candidates for her review. Korn Ferry has served in that role in searches for high-level athletic administrators and head coaches at universities including Michigan, Oregon, Texas and Virginia.

The new hire will be the U. of I.’s 14th director of intercollegiate athletics in the program’s 126 years of competition, overseeing an annual budget of $110 million and a staff of 275 employees. The university has 21 varsity sports with more than 500 student-athletes, and is a charter member of both the Big Ten Conference and the National Collegiate Athletics Association. The Fighting Illini have won 20 NCAA championships, five football national championships and 247 Big Ten titles. Fighting Illini athletes have earned 27 Olympic medals while competing for 14 countries in 24 Olympics.

Senior Associate Athletics Director Paul Kowalczyk is serving as the interim director.

Wilson has instructed the search committee to proceed expeditiously but thoroughly. In compliance with state and university regulations, a decision could be made any time after Jan. 4. Final approval of the successful candidate is subject to approval by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.