New journey stirs emotions in Michael

New journey stirs emotions in Michael

CHARLESTON — Tom Michael had to choke back emotions as he formally accepted his new position as athletic director at Eastern Illinois University on Tuesday at the Baker/Warmoth Hall of Champions at Lantz Arena.

Part of it was the realization of a lifelong dream. He worked the past 18 years in the athletic department at Illinois with the goal of running his own department. He gets that chance at EIU.

But there was an added layer of emotion as he thanked the people he felt were responsible for helping him realize his ambition. Many were in attendance — his family, a contingent from Illinois — but the next hesitation came when he mentioned his father, Bob Michael.

“It was certainly a little more emotional with this being the same day that my dad passed away 15 years ago,” Michael said. “When Dr. (Dan) Nadler said this was when the press conference was going to be I didn’t realize it was going to be the 22nd until I looked at the calendar.

“Then it kind of hit me. But I know he’d be proud, and there was certainly a little extra emotion in that.”

Michael’s bearing was determined as he outlined his plan for EIU athletics — comprehensive excellence, enhancing the student-athlete experience and engaging the community in a meaningful way.

Doing so at a university that held great appeal just sealed the deal.

“I’m not a job chaser,” Michael said. “I’ve been at Illinois for 18 years. I’m just not applying for any AD job that’s out there. It needs to be a fit, and I certainly believe this is a great fit, and obviously President (Bill) Perry and Dr. Nadler believe I’m a great fit for them.”

Perry and Nadler, EIU’s vice president for student affairs, weren’t hesitant about expressing their feelings concerning Michael’s hire. Both called it “a great day to be a Panther.”

“Universities make decisions about who joins the family, and they make those decisions very carefully and with a lot of introspection and a lot of analysis,” Perry said. “I’m here to tell you that everyone I talked to about Tom Michael, the first word out of their mouth was ‘integrity.’ That meant mountains to me and should mean mountains to you because integrity is the underpinning of everything we do at EIU and in particular in athletics.”

What they’re saying

Tuesday’s news conference drew a familiar crowd:

“He’s been wanting to be an AD, and I’m glad he got it. He’ll do a tremendous job at Eastern Illinois University. He has the experience to do a great job. He’s been in a lot of different positions as an athlete and an associate AD. It’s great to see him make a move like this. By the way, I’m going to see if I can get him to write speeches for me. That was probably the best speech I’ve heard.”

— former Illinois basketball coach Lou Henson

“Most guys that get into these jobs haven’t interacted as much with faculty as Tom has. I had just hired Lon Kruger, and he mentioned
academic support, and that was a great job for Tom. I think it’s helped him a lot. “

— former Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther (on hiring Michael in 1996)

“The world of basketball is so small. We all know the same people. It’s what Dr. Perry said. Everyone just says, ‘What a terrific guy.’ We have a lot of people involved with our school that are also involved with Illinois and also have a ton of respect for him. That was really all I needed to hear. There’s nothing that you’re going to glean from somebody in a two-minute conversation that you can take to the bank. But when you start hearing 15 people that you respect say how terrific somebody is, that’s all you need.”

— EIU men’s basketball coach Jay Spoonhour

“Most importantly, something he won’t compromise on, is having students cross the stage with diploma in hand. When I talk about competing at the highest level, academically he not only got his bachelor’s degree but by the time he was out of eligibility he had left Illinois with a master’s degree. What a great way in which to show student-athletes what they can really attain.”

— Dr. Dan Nadler, EIU vice president for student affairs

“This is the first question I always ask: What’s the opportunity at EIU? He talked about excellence and championships — done the right way with integrity and paying attention to the student-athlete experience. ... That’s why this is a great day for EIU and a great day to be a Panther because we are bringing to us an AD who’s going to do great things for us and our program.”

— EIU President Bill Perry