Jim Dey: It takes time to become an overnight success

Jim Dey: It takes time to become an overnight success

When Josh Whitman is introduced today as the new athletic director at the University of Illinois, onlookers will see a 37-year-old polished, poised young professional who's always known which direction he wanted to go.

But his journey — college and professional football player, law student, athletics administrator, clerk to two federal judges, lawyer and director of athletics at two smaller schools — was a long one. There were plenty of bumps along the way.

Eight years ago, Whitman, then a lowly third-year law student, discussed his place in the world with The News-Gazette.

He talked about being physically overmatched as a freshman tight end playing against older, stronger players but still "thrilled to be in there." He spoke about living a "very paranoid existence" on the fringes of the National Football League, where he played for four teams.

"I got cut a lot. I'm an expert on it," he said.

Whitman recalled how he was overcome by emotion during the playing of the National Anthem in his first game as a member of the San Diego Chargers.'

"I started to cry. ... To have overcome what I thought were really long odds to get there was just a major accomplishment for me," he said.

Whitman said he felt lost when he finally decided to throw in the towel on his NFL career.

"For years, everything revolved around football, now nothing did," he said.

Whitman re-directed the discipline required for football to law school.

"I took football out and put law school in," he said.

Before graduating in 2008, Whitman clerked for U.S. Judge Michael McCuskey, who raves about Whitman's ability. So, too, does retired UI law school professor Tom Ulen.

Whitman went on to work as a clerk for Justice Michael Kanne on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and then took a job at the highly prestigious Washington, D.C., law firm of Covington & Burling.

But first he had to take and pass the bar exam. Preparation was grueling, to the point that Whitman said he couldn't "bear the thought of taking it again." If so, he was resigned to his fate.

"I won't stew about (passing it). But there's always the thought in your mind. 'What if I don't pass?' The answer is, 'You take it again.'" he said.

Whitman passed and then went to work for Justice Kanne. He hoped to win an appointment as a clerk for a U.S. Supreme Court justice. That's one ambition Whitman failed to achieve.

If he'd stayed at Covington & Burling, Whitman could have made $1 million a year. But he hinted at another career path, referenced in the interview by the following statement.

"Then again, he's always found college sports administration an attractive possibility."

Today is a big day for Whitman, a testimonial to his penchant for planning and performance. He might not shed any tears, like he did on that NFL sideline so many years ago. But it's the fruition of a dream marked by a heaping helping of hard work plus a smidgen of good luck.

Culver's cash

Former Champaign schools Superintendent Arthur Culver wore out his welcome locally, leaving in 2011 at the school board's request with a $75,000 buyout.

But he's certainly landed on his feet.

The Illinois State Board of Education, which recently released 2014-15 salary information for school superintendents, reports that Culver ranks No. 13 in salary and benefits among the more than 700 in Illinois.

According to the IBSE, Culver receives a $260,000 annual salary plus another $16,647 n benefits as the superintendent of East St. Louis schools. He oversees 10 schools and a student population slightly in excess of 6,100.

But he trails far behind the top three superintendents in compensation.

The state's highest paid superintendents are:

— Linda Yonke, who is paid $336,000 in salary plus another $33,000-plus as superintendent at New Trier Township High School. Yonke oversees two schools with roughly 4,000 students.

— Edward Tivador, the superintendent of the Northbrook/Glenview School District, who's paid $335,000 plus another nearly $30,000 in benefits. He oversees three schools with roughly 1,100 students.

— Joyce Carmine, the superintendent at the Park Forest School District who's paid $330,374 in salary and $20,400 in benefits to manage five schools and 2,000-plus students.

The state's two lowest paid superintendents are:

— Dave Thomas of Centralia. As superintendent of the Grand Prairie School district, he's paid $40,000 to oversee one school with 81 students.

— Kenton Hall, the superintendent of the school district in Shiloh who's paid $43,904 to run two schools with 407 students.

Culver, who came to Champaign from Texas, held the superintendent's post for nine years. During that time, he helped guide the school district through the compliance process with the terms of a now-expired civil rights consent decree aimed at improving the educational performance of minority students.

At the time of his departure, he was being paid $246,851. Culver left without a job but quickly landed as superintendent of the East St. Louis schools.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or at 217-351-5369.