After over three months of searching for Mike Thomas' replacement, it appears the University of Illinois has finally hired a new Director of Athletics.
Josh Whitman, 37, was a standout tight end on the Illini football team during his collegiate years while earning academic All-American honors in 1999. He went on to enjoy a four-year professional career in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins.
Whitman began his career in athletics administration while attending law school at Illinois, where he served as the Assistant to the Athletic Director from 2007-08 and Coordinator of Special Projects from 2005-07. Whitman was also involved in numerous aspects of the athletic department's operations, including development, marketing, sports information and communications, internal operations, and student-athlete programs.
Whitman has been serving as Washington University's athletic director since June of 2014. You can view his complete bio by clicking here.
I think this could be a great hire for Illinois. Whitman definitely lacks experience -- specifically at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics -- but it's hard to deny that he has a huge amount potential. Illini fans have been clamoring for an 'Illinois guy' to head the athletic department since the moment Mike Thomas was fired, and we'll be getting exactly that. Whitman has been at Illinois, he knows the challenges that go along with the job, and he absolutely has the skill set needed to succeed in a big way.
The biggest concern here may be that Whitman doesn't have too many established connections to help kick-start fundraising efforts. By all accounts, though, our new athletic director is an extremely intelligent, charismatic individual so I have faith that he'll get along well with boosters in time.
Of course, the fact that Whitman has never made any major coaching moves will also be another cause for hesitation. But if the Mike Thomas era taught us anything, it's that hiring coaches can be a complete crapshoot; the guy made two great football decisions at Cincinnati (Butch Jones, Brian Kelly) before winding up with Tim Beckman. Do I think Whitman can attract talented candidates to Champaign? I believe so. Although, it may ultimately depend on how much the administration chooses to back him (i.e. compensation packages, lowering academic standards, etc.). Illinois' revenue sports are no longer destination jobs, so that extra stuff is really going to matter in the future.
My only gripe with the decision to hire Josh Whitman? Why on Earth did it take three months for the university to reach this conclusion? How many times did Rick George have to say 'Uh, seriously -- no thanks, Illinois" before boosters finally caught a clue that their No. 1 choice wasn't going to happen? It is what it is, I suppose.
There will likely be some fans who are upset that Illinois pretty much settled for their backup option, but -- as Dee Brown mentioned -- Josh Whitman deserves a chance from all of us. After all, it's going to take one hell of an effort to get the athletic department back on track.
Note: We'll be updating this story with more information as it becomes available.