Patience a virtue for Illini fans with Whitman hiring

Prospective Athletic Director poses for photos after being introduced by Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson as the next Illinois athletic director. Whitman is set to take over March 21, pending on the Board of Trustees’ approval. 

By Peter Bailey-Wells

Check out Joey Gelman’s radio story about new Athletic Director Josh Whitman here.

Josh Whitman had his Illini anecdotes ready to go for his introductory press conference on Thursday in Champaign.

Illinois’ prospective athletic director reminisced about catching his breath the first time he saw Memorial Stadium. He recalled beating Tom Brady and Michigan at Michigan Stadium. And he brought along his old, scuffed Illinois helmet for all to see.

He also told a story — perhaps the most significant of the day — of his time at Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Wisconsin-La Crosse has a storied Division III track and field program — the mens and women’s teams were both Division III national champions in 2015. 

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And on the day of a home meet during Whitman’s time as athletic director, for some reason, there weren’t enough people moving hurdles in the freezing rain that was coming down on the track. 

So the young AD started moving the hurdles himself. 

Whitman spent much of Thursday’s introduction talking about a broad vision and the goals he has for his new athletic department. The Illini donors, coaches and administrators that crowded into the Hall of Fame Room in Beilfeldt Athletic Administration building were visibly excited by the presence of their new leader.

After all, he’s a former Illini and NFL player who looks like he could still strap on his helmet and line up at tight end. He’s young, smart and smiles often — he’s not cut from the same administrator cloth as Mike Thomas.

But, what all parties must remember is exactly what Whitman mentioned during his opening statement.

“This is not an overnight fix.”

Thursday, Illini nation got fired up by the arrival of its new athletic director. 

But on Friday, the Illinois men’s basketball team will still be on the verge of missing its third NCAA Tournament in a row, the football team will still be in the purgatory of a two-year contract and the women’s basketball head coach will still be the target of a lawsuit.

So look, Illinois fans: Be patient with Whitman. He has a lot of work to do and a lot of people who see him as the University’s saving grace athletics-wise. 

Wilson quipped that Whitman was the answer to one Illini head coach’s question about hiring an athletic director who walks on water. There’s a ton of pressure on this 37-year-old to pull Illinois out of the mediocrity of the last few years.

So be patient.

Illinois now has the Big Ten’s least-experienced athletic director. He seems like a smart guy — he has two degrees from the University — but there are things he’s going to have to learn on the job. But regardless of if his first 100 days are a boom or a bust, he’s going to need time.

So be patient.

Peter is a junior in Media.

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