Well Illini nation, your patience has finally paid off. After months of searching, it was reported on Tuesday night that Washington University athletic director and former Illini football player Josh Whitman had been named to the same position at the University of Illinois. But now that there's finally a man in the office, what should his top priorities be when he arrives on campus?
1. Examine the coaching contracts
Now that the AD search is over, this is probably the most hot-button Illini sports topic; what will become of two-year contract Bill Cubit and four-year-downward-trend John Groce? Whitman's top priority once he arrives on campus should be taking a long look at the structure of both the football and basketball coach's contracts. Whether or not Cubit and Groce should be retained is the obvious question, but there are more complicated issues too. Consider that Whitman most likely doesn't know either coach personally. He'll have to sit down with both of them to see if his long-term vision for the future of the program is on par with theirs. If they're not on the same page, you might see even more changes amongst Illinois athletics.
2. Improving game day experiences
Obviously, the biggest improvement that can be made to the game day experience is easy: win more. But there are also some subtle things that Whitman could implement to help make everyone's experience a better one.
For one, there was a stretch of five-straight Big Ten basketball home games in December and January that included no halftime entertainment. None. Just an empty court with intermittent music; that's inexcusable.
Another idea: better in-game activities and media timeout entertainment. It pains me to admit this, but when I travelled to Evanston last year for the Illinois-Northwestern football game, the Wildcats' environment was far superior to what I'd seen in Champaign. Their media timeout entertainment included fans trying to catch punts on the field, fans trying to toss footballs into buckets thirty yards down the field, fans kicking field goals, and crowd-interactive dances. What does the State Farm Center have? The County Market "guess the price of a can of baby food" game.
Make no mistake, Grange Grove and the recent renovations have greatly improved the experience, but Whitman would be wise to further improve those nuances.
3. Setting a standard of excellence
This sounds very cliche, but it's a necessity. In the past calendar year, there have been several issues cropping up at Illinois. The Darius Paul saga, for instance, where he was stopped by police officers in Champaign and then later arrested in France during the basketball team's foreign trip, was a controversial local topic. The recent vandalization of a menorah at the Chabad Jewish Center on campus by a Fighting Illini softball player was another instance. And of course the Tim Beckman investigation, where it was determined that he influenced doctor's decisions and pressured players to play hurt or they'd lose their scholarship.
Whitman needs to set a standard of compliance and excellence from day one, where it will be clear to both coaches and players: no policy violations or excuses, period.
Time for you to chime in! What do you think new AD Josh Whitman's top priorities should be? Drop by in the comments section below and gives us your thoughts.