UI paying the price for coaching changes
Questions? Ask 'em here
URBANA — The buyouts continued Tuesday as Illinois shed yet another coach, but top university officials say that's the cost of doing business in the high-priced world of college athletics.
The current tally is up to about $2.15 million, with about $1.7 million headed to former basketball coach John Groce and another $450,000 to outgoing women's basketball coach Matt Bollant, who was fired Tuesday.
Add to that another hefty salary for whoever is hired to lead the men's team.
"The harsh reality of it is it's a business," said UI Board of Trustees Chairman Tim Koritz.
"You don't have to look any farther than Big Ten football, the salaries that coaches are being paid," he said. "It's almost like an arms race.
"I think in a lot of states, two of the highest-paid state employees are the football coach and the basketball coach. That's just the way it is right now," he said.
Athletic director Josh Whitman is scheduled to talk with trustees behind closed doors today about the coaching hires. The board generally doesn't get involved in preliminary talks about athletic contracts, though it has final approval, said Trustee Ed McMillan.
Koritz said he has "tremendous faith" in Whitman: "I think it's important that we let him run his shop.
"I don't think you'd meet a more consummate gentleman than John Groce. I think everybody feels that way. Most importantly, he took great care of his kids, the student-athletes," Koritz said. "But Josh has to decide what's best for DIA. I respect his decision."
Koritz and others also noted that coaching contracts are covered by athletic department income, not tuition or state funds.
UI President Tim Killeen said Whitman put together charts on income projections and the costs of the coaching change when he briefed the president and chancellor, and "it's fundamentally realistic."
"The financial side of this has been very carefully looked at," Killeen said. "As usual, AD Whitman is very analytical in his approach to these things."
"Of course, we don't know who we're going to be recruiting and what that will actually cost," he said.
Killeen said he hopes a new coach can be hired "very quickly" and he has confidence in Whitman and Chancellor Robert Jones. "We've had good contingency discussions, I would say, not about specific candidates."
Killeen and Jones said they didn't give Whitman a salary ceiling for the new coach, other than "within reason," Jones said. But Killeen said Whitman talked about various scenarios, and "I'm very comfortable with what I've heard."
"Again, this is part of the environment in which we have to operate to be competitive," Jones said, "to be able to hire someone here who can come in and meet the expectations of having a competitive program in both of these sports, as well as someone who will continue to advance our core principle that I have talked to the athletic department about: that our student-athletes are students first and athletes second.
"That's the kind of individual I know that Josh will be looking for. It won't come cheap, but it's a landscape in which we have to operate," Jones said.
Jones said he's been talking with Whitman about both the men's and women's basketball jobs over the last several weeks and was involved in the decision-making process.
"It's always a concern about having to do buyouts in these tight financial times. Unfortunately, it's kind of the nature of the beast, the way collegiate athletics is built, the way these contracts are structured," Jones said.
"It's been a part of the whole makeup and system for a very long time. We try to do our best to keep it under control and to make very thoughtful decisions but at the same time honor to the best of our ability a legally binding document."
McMillan, who stepped down as board chairman in January, said contracts always include incentives for coaches to stay, to provide continuity for the UI.
"Invariably, when we look back historically, we find ourselves in a situation where we've been trying to keep a coach with us, and we end up terminating, and there's a termination cost," he said.
The board has tried to structure contracts in recent years to minimize that financial penalty, such as reducing the UI's payout by the amount a coach earns in his new job, should he get hired during the buyout period.
McMillan said the decision to fire Groce was a painful and "emotional" one for Whitman, but it was the right one — and "you pay for it."
No word on trustee vacancies
URBANA — For the second meeting in a row, there will be three empty seats around the table as the University of Illinois Board of Trustees gathers at the Illini Union today.
Just six of the nine appointed trustees remain, as three terms ended in January — for Democrats Ricardo Estrada and Patricia Brown-Holmes and Republican Karen Hasara.
Gov. Bruce Rauner has not yet announced his picks to fill those seats.
In January, the governor said he was talking to "superstar" candidates with UI ties who would make "national or international headlines" if they accepted.
Since then, his office has promised that the appointments would come soon.
Spokeswoman Catherine Kelly told WDWS on Tuesday that the governor is evaluating candidates to ensure the best people are in place to help lead the university.
UI President Tim Killeen said he has talked with Rauner about the appointments but wouldn't speculate about who the new trustees might be.
"I am very confident he has the best interests of the University of Illinois in mind in terms of making this selection carefully and judiciously," Killeen said. "We're obviously very anxious to see those appointments made."
The vacancies haven't caused any serious problems, Killeen said, but "we'd like to get that broad expertise with a full board in place."
One concrete issue: some of the board's committees are down to three members, which means two members constitute a quorum.
"That severely limits our ability to talk to each other outside of committee meetings because it could potentially be a violation of the Open Meetings Act," said Chairman Tim Koritz. "It's really hard to transact any business or prepare for meetings."