Tate: Guenther ponders decisions

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CHAMPAIGN – Ron Guenther took a quick dive Wednesday into the river of unanswered questions consuming the UI athletic director and his major sports.

Based on body language and comments at a well-attended news conference, my feeling that the athletic director will re-up beyond July 1 changed from 90 percent yes to 50-50.

Flip a coin. After 19 years, he appears to be wavering. Previously, Guenther had said he would delay a decision until a new chancellor is named. Rather than wait for that to happen, which is too far in the future, he said Wednesday he'll reveal his intentions within two or three weeks. President Michael Hogan and the UI administration need to know for planning purposes, particularly if he intends to leave.

But the anti-Rons, who criticize him for the shoddy record in football and the slippage in basketball, should not yet form to rush the court. He is still in the decision-making stage.

"It would be difficult to walk away from the people I work with," he said.

Referring to the Assembly Hall, which he discussed with the athletic board Wednesday, Guenther expressed hope once again in getting it off the ground in a weak economy. But no naming rights have as yet been secured, and it may be wishful thinking to set the spring of 2012, little more than a year from now, as the starting point.

"I wouldn't launch this unless I felt the staff could carry on without me," he said. "And I don't have to be the athletic director to assist in the Assembly Hall."

Put your own interpretation on those words. Clearly, he doesn't want to dump it in the lap of a new athletic director when it is still in the embryo stage. So if his words lead to conjecture, as is the case, it must be obvious that a great deal is running through Guenther's mind.

Raising the profile

Yes, Ron Zook will get a raise to $1.75 million but no extension beyond his three seasons, and all the assistant coaches will have two-year contracts ... Paul Petrino going from $475,000 to $525,000, and Vic Koenning being boosted from $325,000 to $342,000.

"We'll look into extending Zook's contract after next season," said Guenther, acting as though he'll still be in the position to do so.

"Last year we took a hard look at the football coaching situation and what we could do, and Ron Zook did an exceptional job in putting the new staff together. We got a bowl victory, and I think it helped our recruiting. A 7-6 record looks a lot better than 6-7. Now we'd like to string them together.

"We have some momentum, and we have eight home games next season. With the stadium renovation, we are targeting seven home games for the future."

Guenther mentioned the fragile line between winning and losing, "a line that the fan base never gets ... there are the close calls, academic casualties, physical casualties ... parity is here. And the Big Ten is getting stronger with Nebraska coming in.

"This was the first staff that had everything it needed to win, from the physical plant to a budget that allowed me to pay for the best assistants. It's not like we can't get it done at Illinois. We can."

Close not counting

Guenther emphasized "there'll be no change over there," in reference to basketball coach Bruce Weber. Nor did the AD indicate anything resembling the basketball staff shakeup that took place in football last year.

Asked to pinpoint the problem, Guenther said:

"It came down to getting the right kids. We went to the championship game (in 2005), set our sights on some top prospects, and we lost our way. I go back to that team that competed with toughness and swagger, a team that could grind it out.

"At this point, we don't have a junior class, and the seniors have not performed to expectations. We are frustrated and disappointed, particularly in losing so many close games. That brings about another issue, which is a lack of confidence. The really good teams win close games.

"It hasn't been a lack of effort. They work very hard. Bruce is a great human being, and I think he'll figure it out. Yes, we'll sit down and discuss things after the season. We do that whether it is a good year or a bad year. Bruce will look at everything."

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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DanvilleIllini wrote on February 17, 2011 at 6:02 am

Please "Coach" Guenther do the Illini nation a big favor and call it quits on July 1 Maybe, just maybe our athletic program will get off the mediocre ride it's been on under "Coach" Guenther. Giving the Zooker a raise for going 7-6! What's next? Weber getting a raise for making the NIT??? Way to set the bar high!

I find it hillarious that on the same day "Coach" Guenther gives his state of the Illini union speech to a bunch of softball reporters, I watched "Coach" Guenther throw a "Randle you idiot like fit" from his little luxury box after a 2nd half Illini turnover last night. I looked back again to see "Coach" Guenther's reaction to another Illini mistake and he was gone....hit the exits with 5 minutes left in the Michigan game and never came back. Less than 24 hours after giving Bruce his "full support", he himself couldn't even support his beloved Illini with his presence at the end of the game. Maybe he had his best buddy Tate coming over to watch an episode of Matlock or something? Perhaps I should have asked to join them, because watching Matlock has to be more enjoyable than watching this team & coaching staff get pucker butt at the end of every game!

July 1= D-Day for Illini athletics!!!!

tb wrote on February 17, 2011 at 8:02 am

Sometimes I think I'm not seeing things straight. How can you give Zook a raise. That move alone should be our AD's last move. Has anyone out there ever purchased an old home and renovated it. If you have, you would know that 5 or 10 years down the road you find out you still have an old house and you wasted your money. I do not see the attachment with the Hall. It served its purpose now its time to move on. Designations of old buildings mean nothing it can be changed if its pushed by the right State Rep. Lets make changes that our kids can enjoy. Redbird Arena is alot better place to watch a game. Take some notes.

coryfor3 wrote on February 17, 2011 at 8:02 am

Take time for you. Go ahead and retire. Who needs the headaches? We'll be ok- really. Take a load off. Go ahead and take the retirement and pension and enjoy life. Wish you the best. Please.

PeoriaIllini wrote on February 17, 2011 at 8:02 am

I guess I read Zook's raise as the same thing as the two assistants, that it was part of the contract to get a bump at this point in the contract.

oandb wrote on February 17, 2011 at 9:02 am

only an idiot would give Zook a raise. please retire so we can get someone with a brain in Champaign.

cnichols401 wrote on February 17, 2011 at 9:02 am

Sign me up for firing him or retiring on his own. He's the reason Illinois athletics, specifically the money makers are awful.

peterborich wrote on February 17, 2011 at 10:02 am

Wow..an actual Ron Guenther press conference/talk with media? The second coming of Christ must be nigh....

Illinibacker wrote on February 17, 2011 at 3:02 pm

RG, thanks for the fundraising, and please stay on for the as 'fundraiser emeritus' you will always have a home here.

However, please let July 1 be the end. It is time. Please let the BOT and chancellor make a competely outside search for a new AD that you are not a part of. Let's restore Illinois athletics.

Liner wrote on February 17, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I for one think Ron guenther has done a very good job as our athletic director and have seen great progress made in our facilities and we are in good financial shape and have fair ticket prices when compared to other programs. Both of our men's head coaches have had some good years and some not so good. I'm thinking a year from now there won't be so much dissent.

Jam wrote on February 17, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Good job Ron. Most of these naysayers could not run a washing machine let alone a multi million dollar enterprise. You have done well. Do not resign until you are good and ready.

cevans wrote on February 17, 2011 at 11:02 pm

To Liner and Jam,

Liner- Im guessing when you say Illinois has had some decent seasons your reffering to the National Championship the Mens basketball played and lost correct, just want you to know that was basically Bill Selfs team- not good ol Bruce "Screaming Baboon" Weber. Then for Football they didnt do much before the Rose Bowl and this past season was a fair season but thats like 1 out of like what 8 or so because its kind of obvious that the Rose Bowl was a major FLUKE. Then for Jam- I can run a washing machine and I doubt Ronnie Boy could because if he is so smart like you say he is they why in the world is he giving Zook Raise after Raise. THen for Weber why doesnt he can him and start looking for someone else that can get the players respect huh????? I dont know what some ppl see in Guenther, what kind of person in his postition gets to pick and chose to answer questions from the public and the media? I think the best thing for the U of I is to get rid of him and two of its main Head coaches and get some new blood in that school.

GO ILLINI

blmillini wrote on February 18, 2011 at 1:02 am

Guenther mentioned the fragile line between winning and losing, "a line that the fan base never gets ... there are the close calls, academic casualties, physical casualties ... parity is here. And the Big Ten is getting stronger with Nebraska coming in.

Don't forget lousy head coaching decisions from a terrible hire.

And, adding Nebraska simply pushes the rest of the big ten down one bowl position... now maybe we will win more of those games.

cnichols401 wrote on February 18, 2011 at 8:02 am

Its not like I have any confidence that the U of I will get a AD that values winning. It's Illinois

pblillini wrote on February 18, 2011 at 12:02 pm

DanvilleIllini - Jokes on you my friend. Guenther did give Weber a 50% raise last year, after failing to make the NCAA tournament. Just another puzzling decision in a long line of them by RG.

DaisyJ wrote on February 18, 2011 at 9:02 pm

GLAD... Gunth thinks Web has it figured out...NOT

Look, what is so good about THe way Webs's team looks. They are offensive illiterate, plain and simple, they run around like clowns. Big Men are out front, Cole at 6'9 is outside, as Tis, last game we never tried once to go down to Richardson, Griffy has been fired and now only cheerleads, I can go on and on. Web is not the answer, even with new blood coming in.

Chitown wrote on February 18, 2011 at 10:02 pm

If Guenther does hang them up 7/1, what is the process for hiring a new AD? Does anyone know?

nolintaylor wrote on February 18, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Maybe somebody can tell me ...

The first time after the 04-05 run in Basketball, that the ILLINI missed the big dance it was blamed on a lack of talent on the roster. Last year/this year its the talent is good just not playing up to their level that they can.

Well is not the two basic functions of a college basketball coach recruiting talents and getting the talent to play up to their abilities.

Then football which was making a resurgence in the 1980s and suddenly fall out after the G-man took the reigns. Are these coincidences. Can all of this be explained away by 10,000 excuses offered by NG and RG?

Merely observations.

chuckles wrote on February 19, 2011 at 6:02 am

Zookered. Zook (or Gurnther) Hired two good assistants and getting a raise? Zookered. In a nationally average Big 10? Zookered. Zookered. Tate and Turpin. Zookered.