After more than 100 days without an athletic director, the University of Illinois Urbana campus has officially named Josh Whitman to the post. Whitman is making the jump from NCAA Division III school Washington University in St. Louis, but he says there are more similarities than differences between the two levels.
"At the core of what we do is our students. That will always be true," Whitman says. "At a place like Washington University, we're able to recruit across the country, the same as we do at Illinois. We're able to compete for conference and national championships. I travel all over the country and meet with an incredibly affluent and successful group of alumni and donors. So, there are a lot of similarities."
The 37-year-old Whitman was a four-year starter on the Illinois football team in the late 1990s and holds degrees in finance and law from the U of I.
Whitman says his first official day on the job at Illinois will be March 21. He replaces Mike Thomas, who was fired by the university in November after a series of incidents in the football and women’s basketball programs.
Whitman says he'll draw on his experience as athletic director at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse in trying to restore confidence in an athletic department that's been in turmoil.
"An approach that we took up there that I think will work here is that you want to show people incremental progress," he says. "You want to be able to say 'we're going to do something,' and then you do it. Over time the wheel starts to turn, and you start to pick up momentum. Then people understand that this is going to get better."
Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson says that Whitman has a five-year contract that will pay him $600,000 per year, plus incentives for both academic and athletic performance.
Wilson says she knew during their first interview that Whitman should be the new AD.
"Josh is really the full package," she said. "To add to all of that, it's great to have an Illini. That wasn't a criterion from the beginning, but it was what I could call icing on the cake. If we could get all of the things we needed, plus someone who loved Illinois, that would be the best of all possible worlds."