As part of a new series at The Champaign Room, we’ll be looking weekly at topics that can be debated surrounding Illinois athletics and presenting both sides before you, the reader, choose what you believe and why. In this first edition we’ll be taking a look at Director of Athletics Josh Whitman and some of his decisions over his first two years on the job.
Make sure to vote at the end of the article in the poll and leave any comments on what you think!
Came In With a Splash
Josh Whitman was hired in February 2016, although it may not seem like he’s been on the job for two years. Two years in most careers is a good barometer to take a step back and look at how well said person is doing in that job.
Being an athletic director for a Big Ten university is not of those jobs that can really be successfully measured in only two years.
Whitman came into the position to replace Mike Thomas, who by the way may go down as one of the least successful Athletic Directors in University history. Whitman came in and cleaned house by seeing the direction that Illinois’ revenue sports were going.
As a result, he pulled the plug on it instantly. Illinois had a head football coach suited for a MAC team — and Whitman fired him on his first day on the job — a men’s basketball coach that went 39-53 in the Big Ten, and a women’s basketball coach that had a myriad of issues too long for me to cover under a thousand words.
The previous era of Illinois revenue sports athletics stunk, and now Illinois finds itself the butt of the joke in the Big Ten in men’s basketball and football. Illinois is one of the worst Power Five programs in the entire country, and it’s not just subjectively.
Whitman hired a former NFL coach in Lovie Smith, someone who took the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl, and it was a hire that says ‘we are going to swing for the fences, we may fall short but we are going to take one hell of a hack at it.’ Just the decision to fire Bill Cubit was enough to have most Illini fans celebrating.
He then fired John Groce, a move that some Illini fans questioned but was likely the right choice. Groce had the best recruiting class the Illini faithful had seen in awhile, and it was hard to think that could end up slipping through the cracks. Then Whitman hired Brad Underwood, a coach who had only been at Oklahoma State for one season before jumping ship for Champaign. Once again, Illini fans seemed pleased. Underwood is a proven winner with nationally recognized potential to be great.
Whitman also fired Matt Bollant, the women’s basketball coach who had a career surrounded by scandal and a losing. He hired Nancy Fahey, who again is regarded as a high-ceiling coach among experts around the NCAA.
The Challenges Continue
Two years into Whitman’s job and we are looking at a men’s and women’s basketball team without a Big Ten win and a football team that went 2-10 last year, including no Big Ten victories.
Illini nation was calling for a change, and Whitman brought in Arizona OC/QBs coach Rod Smith and tight ends coach Cory Patterson from Trinity Catholic last week. This time the reaction was less than stellar, even if many folks are excited about what they might bring to the team. But many people are questioning the moves, stating Smith wasn’t calling the shots at Arizona and Patterson has no experience recruiting or coaching at a collegiate level.
The risky hires and the current struggles surrounding revenue sports has stirred up a lot of animosity among Illinois fans.
I have one question to ask to those upset about the current state of affairs.
What did you expect?
Lovie Smith replaced essentially two MAC coaches — Tim Beckman probably was never cut out to succeed at Illinois — and inherited a MAC roster, so how can you expect a coach to win in the Big Ten with a MAC talent roster. The highest-rated recruit Cubit/Beckman ever got was Gabe Megginson, and I think there is a reason he didn’t have many high-caliber offers.
Oh, but the basketball team is less of a project right? Illinois is a basketball school, after all, and it doesn’t take as many recruits to rebuild a basketball team. Wrong, again. The basketball team was passed down to Underwood with basically no upperclassman leadership and a center (Michael Finke) who would likely be coming off the bench at most schools.
The other end of the spectrum is a lot of people saying, “look at the results on the court or the field.” It’s hard to argue. How can you debate someone saying the state of our program is in bad shape when we haven’t won a Big Ten game in those three sports in 327 days?
I get it, I know we’ve been asked to be patient for a decade now, but I truly believe we will be watching competitive revenue sports again in three years or less.
How could one judge Whitman after only two years after the state of affairs he was left in?
Do you currently consider Josh Whitman’s tenure a bust?
This poll is closed