Former tennis coach could be perfect fit as Illini athletic director

The search to find the next director of athletics for the University is on.

Since Ron Guenther announced last week that he would retire at the end of his contract, there has been no shortage of speculation as to who will replace the fifth-longest serving athletic director in the country. Many of the rumors have circled around Northwestern’s current head, Jim Phillips, who is a 1990 alumnus of the University.

Simply put, Phillips would be a great fit. He already has a connection to both the Big Ten and this university, and he’s been extremely successful with the Wildcats. He recently signed Wildcats football head coach Pat Fitzgerald, one of the finest young coaches in the nation, to a seven-year deal and effectively took him off the market to help that football program continue to grow. In addition to that, the school’s women’s programs in volleyball and basketball are quickly improving while the lacrosse program is the model for the rest of the nation.

But there’s a problem: There’s no guarantee that Phillips would even look in Illinois’ direction. He’s turned down interested schools like Oregon, Arizona, Kansas and Maryland since being hired by Northwestern in 2008. Because of this, I implore you to turn your attention to Craig Tiley.

Anybody outside the tennis world or followers of the lesser-known Illini sports may not recognize the name, but his track record cannot be disputed. Tiley took over the Illinois tennis program as the interim coach in 1993, when it was among the worst in the nation, and turned it into one of the country’s best by the time he left in 2005. In 2003 his team won the national championship, the last Illini team to do so.

That same year Amer Delic won the singles title while Brian Wilson and Rajeev Ram captured one on the doubles side. Kevin Anderson, who played under Tiley for one season, is currently the No. 35-ranked player in the world.

Off the court he had four academic All-Americans and 37 academic All-Big Ten selections, proving strong forehands and backhands weren’t all that mattered. Tiley also deserves much of the credit for the NCAA Championships coming to the Atkins Tennis Center in 2013.

Being a great coach doesn’t guarantee success in an administrative spot by any means, but since leaving Champaign-Urbana, he’s done just fine. Tiley currently serves as the director of Tennis Australia, overseeing all things tennis in the country, including the development of players and serving as tournament director of the Australian Open, one of four grand slam events each year. That, of course, is no easy task.

There are those who are not the biggest supporters of Tiley in Australia, however. The country has struggled in the Davis Cup and its top-ranked player is the world’s No. 67 Lleyton Hewitt. The fact is Australia is in a transitional period with the aging Hewitt and Peter Luczak, but the future is bright. On the men’s side, 18-year-old Bernard Tomic is ranked No. 180, while, on the women’s side, No. 26 Jarmila Gajdosova could prove to be the foundation for the future of the sport.

He may not get instant results, but Tiley has proven and is continuing to prove he has what it takes to restore struggling programs. If he can do to Illini athletics what he did with its tennis program nearly two decades ago, the athletic program as a whole will do much better. Renovations for Memorial Stadium and various other facility upgrades under Guenther were nice, but one team championship under his 19-year watch is simply unacceptable. So why not bring in the guy who brought that championship into the mix? That is, if he’s willing.

_Greg is a senior in Media._