Tate: Michael takes step in right direction

Tate: Michael takes step in right direction

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CHAMPAIGN — Tom Michael keeps moving up the ladder. But don't be confused. The latest job advancement by the 40-year-old former Illini basketball player was part of a long-considered master plan and doesn't affect the UI athletic director search one way or the other.

With director Ron Guenther retiring and associate director Terry Cole stepping down Aug. 15, Michael will leave academic services to move into Cole's role. It'll be a gradual move with Michael spending half-days in the Bielfeldt administrative offices and half-days in the Irwin Academic Center until his successor there, Kristin Kane, is fully up to speed. Kane has worked and traveled with the football team and has a dozen years with Michael.

The look of the athletic department continues to get a facelift with Chris Hanna, whose innovative ideas uplifted the marketing department, the latest to leave.

Michael, in progressing from academic adviser to assistant director to associate director, is following the career path of his mentor, Cole, as he takes over administration and scheduling for football while also overseeing academic services, strength and conditioning, student services and equipment.

"I don't tell Al Martindale how to administer anything medically," Michael said, "but (as team trainer) he reports to me and we talk about three times a week on administrative matters."

Football scheduling, one of Cole's duties, will be perhaps the most controversial aspect of Michael's new job. He'll make the calls and do the groundwork, based on the philosophy of the new director and coach Ron Zook.

"There are discussions ongoing about the Big Ten moving to nine conference games," Michael said. "We'll have to see what happens there. We want home games, but payouts to (non-BCS) teams are growing enormously."

The 2013 schedule is set with two September toughies, Cincinnati and Washington, ahead of an October-early November lineup of Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State.

Looking good

In judging players, maybe the worst idea is taking seriously what happens in all-star basketball games.

Which means, of course, that my own rule is about to be violated.

Last weekend's North-South game in Normal offered the following revelations: (1) Nnanna Egwu, who is generally rated fourth among the UI's four in-state recruits, is making strides and looked like the best prospect of the bunch, (2) Tracy Abrams lacks the point guard skills of Stanford-bound Chasson Randle and (3) Butler University has a superb pickup in O'Fallon forward Roosevelt Jones.

Based on minimal sightings, Egwu has the length, speed and jumping ability to immediately challenge Meyers Leonard for the Illini center position. His 15-foot jumper appears adequate. He is on a path with JaJuan Johnson, who was no better at this stage but improved tremendously to become the Big Ten's only 2011 first-round NBA pick.

The big question is whether the UI's elastic shot blocker can hold position and avoid fouling against rooting heavyweights. Can he defend the post?

If you think back, Mike Tisdale, who committed 118 personals and fouled out five times last season, was not the only Illini center who encountered foul problems. Robert Archibald always had the refs' attention and, to a lesser extent, Shaun Pruitt and James Augustine had rough moments. And Leonard's brief appearances last season were marked by a foul every 5 1/2 minutes.

The UI practice competition between Egwu and Leonard will be revealing when Leonard returns from Latvia. Egwu hasn't played against many taller centers.

Petrino ahead of the game now

With football drills at Rantoul little more than a month off, the UI's second-year offensive coordinator Paul Petrino is logically miles ahead of a year ago.

Imagine starting with a rookie quarterback, a vacated tight end position and a new system with a team that had gone 3-9. That's what Petrino inherited. Now he has the same QB and most of the returning talent from a 7-6 bowl winner. From any standpoint, the Illini should be improved offensively over a 2010 unit that averaged 32.5 points and nearly 100 yards per quarter (246 rushing, 151 passing per game).

Petrino explained his Rantoul priorities Saturday:

(1) In accordance with his "feed the studs" philosophy, find out what Jason Ford and the running backs do best, in order to know what plays to call and the best way to take advantage of the ball-carrying and pass-catching playmakers. Petrino's interest in Ford is such that they talk virtually every day.

(2) With Nathan Scheelhaase showing better arm strength and recognition, work in the top receivers in an expanded aerial game.

(3) Come out of Rantoul "mentally tough."

Petrino believes that some preseason prognosticators are downgrading the Illini essentially because of the departure of crack juniors Mikel Leshoure, Martez Wilson and Corey Liuget, noting: "Our players are very confident and have a lot of momentum from the Texas Bowl (38-14 win against Baylor)."

He says the season falls naturally into three equal parts: four nonconference games, road games against Indiana, Purdue, Penn State and Minnesota, and home dates against Northwestern, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. The UI has a scheduling advantage in not facing well-regarded squads from Nebraska, Michigan State and Iowa.

Tate's tidbits

— Petrino never was injured in four seasons as the star quarterback at Carroll College. He expects the same from Scheelhaase, saying: "He can't get hurt. That's not an option. He ran for over 800 yards as a freshman. We expect him to be good for 1,000 this year."

— Rumors that Jereme Richmond quit attending classes before dropping out at the UI are denied by Tom Michael, who explained: "We know when any athlete misses a class, and they're not going to play if that happens. Of course, we have no control when they leave the program."

— The first Illini squad to play at Nebraska will be the volleyball team Oct. 22, followed a day later by the UI soccer team in Lincoln.

— Critics of "too-tough" Illini football schedules would have a hard time as Oregon State fans. Last season the Beavers faced Rose Bowl champ TCU, Louisville and No. 3 Boise State in their non-league openers. Then they opened the Pac-10 with hard-fought wins against Arizona State and Arizona.

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

Why I Feel YOUNG ...

Get-togethers are great. The reunion of Ron Turner’s 2001 championship football team revived many pleasant memories, from Luke Butkus and Jerry Schumacher to Tony Pashos and Terrell Washington, among others. And lunch with Lou Henson’s gang Wednesday allowed for reminisces with Deon Thomas, Rob Judson, Dick Nagy and others. Let’s do more.

Why I Feel OLD ...

Who was that barefoot hillbilly lighting precious Fourth of July firecrackers — precious because my mother wasn’t thrilled — and throwing them around in southern Kentucky? Imagine! That was three quarters of a century ago, long before the sophisticated fireworks that we’ve become accustomed to in Champaign. It was another world.

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TotalIlliniFan wrote on July 05, 2011 at 7:07 am

Good news during a quiet sports time. Agree - bring on MORE MORE MORE innovative marketing ideas and reunions to rebuild fan trust, interest, ticket sales and donations.

MarkHoekstra wrote on July 05, 2011 at 7:07 am

Chris Hanna? GOOD RIDDANCE! Dude failed to market Chicagoland, not to mention he got us stuck with that ridiculous football series with Western Michigan. DETROIT!!!

DaisyJ wrote on July 06, 2011 at 2:07 pm

A couple of things....the big ten network is showing the BIG TEN'S GREATEST GAMES...which this recently included Nebraska. This is a shame that they are shown. They were not big ten, yet they are still shown. Reminds me of the bogus Capilara

running back that made the top 50 big ten icons when he was never in the big ten but with independent Penn State. Does anyone not have a brain anymore??