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University of Illinois announces Athletic Director search committee

The search committee will be chaired by UI professor Matt Wheeler.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

At long last, the search for a new Athletic Director at the University of Illinois is officially underway. The school announced an eight-member search committee on Monday morning to find a replacement for Mike Thomas, who was fired last month without cause.

The committee will be comprised of Matt Wheeler (professor of animal science, athletic representative), Mike Bass (university administrative employee, former football player), Keiko Price (associate athletic director for student services), Janet Rayfield (women's soccer coach), Howard Milton (associate director of athletics for advancement), Richard Stockton (attorney, member of athletics board), Judge Dan Flannell (Illinois alumnus, chief judge in Illinois Sixth Judicial Circuit Court), and Nicole Evans (current softball student-athlete).

The committee will make recommendations to Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson, and final approval for any hire will then be required by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. Wilson has not yet determined if a search firm will assist the committee.

Here's the full press release, for those interested.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —A committee to identify and recruit the next director of athletics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will proceed expeditiously but thoroughly in that process, Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson said today in announcing the committee roster. The eight-person athletic director search committee will make recommendations to Wilson, and final approval is required by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.

"I've described the athletic program as the front porch of this magnificent institution of higher education, meaning that it's a setting where a variety of people engage with the university," Wilson said. "With that in mind, we're looking for an athletic director with the vision and the skills to enhance the elements that are strong already, to rebuild where needed, and to restore the athletics program to a position of pride for Illini Nation across the board."

The search committee is chaired by Matt Wheeler, a professor of animal sciences and a faculty athletic representative. Also serving on the committee are Mike Bass, a university administration employee, U. of I. alumnus and a former U. of I. football athlete; Keiko Price, the associate athletic director for academic services; Janet Rayfield, the head coach for women's soccer; Howard Milton, the associate director of athletics for advancement; Richard Stockton, an attorney, U. of I. alumnus and a member of the athletics board; Judge Dan Flannell, an Illinois alumnus and chief judge in the Illinois Sixth Judicial Circuit Court­; and Nicole Evans, a current softball athlete.

Wilson said she has not decided whether to hire a search firm to assist in the process. The position announcement is available online.

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.

Wilson announced Nov. 9 the university was exercising a "without cause" separation clause in Director of Athletics Mike Thomas' contract.  Senior Associate Athletic Director Paul Kowalczyk is serving as interim director.