Aiding a football and basketball program’s return to prominence can be a challenging task. Just ask Illinois AD Josh Whitman.
On Feb. 17, 2016, the Fighting Illini hired him to do just that after he spent nearly two years as the athletic director at Washington University in St. Louis. He also was a tight end at Illinois from 1997-2000.
Josh Whitman’s introductory press conference
Once Whitman officially took hold of the position, he quickly stepped in and fired then-football coach Bill Cubit, who served on the staff for the previous three seasons. Although he appeared to surprise many players with the move, he followed that up with the hiring of Lovie Smith, who boasted 20 years of NFL coaching experience, two days later.
In Smith’s first season at head coach, the Illini strung together a mere 3-9 overall record, along with going 2-7 in Big Ten play. Nevertheless, his team is poised to improve next season, as the 2017 recruiting class ranked No. 11 in the conference and No. 47 in the nation. One of their big commits was 3-star WR Ricky Smalling, who ranks No. 52 overall at his position on 247Sports.
Similar to Cubit’s departure, coach John Groce could soon find himself on the curb in Champaign, Ill. because of another disappointing basketball season. Currently, the Illini possess a 14-12 overall mark and a 4-9 record in conference play. Much can be blamed around his poor offensive scheme, as the team places No. 209 in the country in points per game (71.6).
Although Whitman might celebrate his first year at Illinois, the athletic department evidently still has plenty to improve upon.