A surprising resignation has set the stage for a big change in the University of Illinois athletics department.
UI Athletic Director Ron Guenther has been on the job so long it's hard to imagine the athletic department without him.
So even though most people knew his contract was set to expire on June 30 and that he was said to be contemplating stepping down, the news of his retirement, for lack of a better word, was something of a stunner.
But the deed is done, with Guenther commenting that "the timing of this felt right."
Right for him, perhaps, not necessarily for the UI. But it's his life and his right to choose in what direction to go next. Nonetheless, Guenther's shoes will be hard to fill.
Not everyone will be sorry to see him go. Fans unhappy with the direction of the football and basketball programs want to fire everyone in the athletic department, especially the top dog.
But those who are not prisoners of emotion recognize that Guenther has been a very successful athletic director. He has been a leader of not just the UI but the Big Ten Conference in the modern age of big-time college sports.
Further, he has excelled in two important areas, construction of new athletic facilities and the avoidance of problems with the NCAA.
It's no secret that major colleges are engaged in an arms race of sorts involving facilities for their sports programs. Schools that intend to compete not only must attract the best athletes but provide the best facilities for them.
Guenther has presided over a nearly two-decade long building program, overseeing a variety of projects that range from a new indoor golf practice facility to the renovation of Memorial Stadium. He has been an indefatigable fund-raiser with a vision for the future that is hard to match
His efforts in this area, owing to his longtime status as an Illini and a range of heavy-hitting contacts, will be hard to surpass.
As far the NCAA goes, longtime Illini fans are familiar with the pain of NCAA investigations, and those who aren't should take a look at the damage NCAA investigations have caused to the University of Southern California or are causing at Ohio State.
Cheating is not just wrong; it's just not worth it, and Guenther has made it a point to emphasize that UI athletic programs have to be run in a manner consistent with NCAA rules. Because of that, Illinois has had no big issues with the NCAA since Guenther took over 19 years ago.
The big question now, naturally, is who will take Guenther's place. The UI has set an ambitious timetable, suggesting that it could have Guenther's replacement on board by July 1, less than six weeks from today.
If it happens, that would be fine. Perhaps UI President Michael Hogan has exactly the right person in mind for the job.
Otherwise, the UI needs to conduct a wide-ranging search for a multi-talented individual who can perform all the important duties of the modern athletic director.
Indeed, it needs someone like Guenther, and people that talented are hard to find.