Tate: AD could be named any day
There is still a chance, if everything goes smoothly and UI President Michael Hogan approves the search committee's recommendation, that a new athletic director could be finalized by next week.
That would be super-speed considering how long it took to locate a chancellor.
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But Larry DeBrock, chairman of the 10-person committee, reiterated Monday his goal of naming Ron Guenther's successor within two weeks of last Wednesday's decision on a chancellor. The latter choice of Phyllis Wise was delayed in late July by Hogan's vacation, even as her name bounced around campus that week.
DeBrock was obliged to slow down, but his group has been working and conducting interviews with the intention of following closely the hiring of a chancellor, to whom the new director will report. It is believed the list of candidates was reduced to three or four by last week, all of whom would accept if named.
With the nationwide search, much interest has centered on Ohio — Brad Bates serves at Miami (Ohio) — and a single city, Cincinnati, where two exceptional directors have earned high stature.
Xavier's Mike Bobinski, who doubles as university vice president for development, hired Thad Matta, Sean Miller and Chris Mack as coaches for a basketball program that shows six straight NCAA appearances. He will chair the Men's Division I Committee in 2012-13, succeeding Connecticut AD Jeff Hathaway.
Cincinnati's Mike Thomas struck gold with the hiring of Brian Kelly, who took Bearcat football on a 33-6 run before moving to Notre Dame last year. On the court, the Bearcats haven't been able to match the Bob Huggins years and needed last season's 26-9 finish to lift the five-year record to 87-77.
Backing it up
On the field where Dick Butkus once roamed, it is appropriate that the nation's nastiest collegiate linebacker will appear at Memorial Stadium this September.
Vontaze Burfict, a 250-pound junior wearing No. 7 for Arizona State, is a young man with extreme talent and serious anger-management problems. Criticized for cheap shots and generally dirty play, he once shoved an official to give his team time to set up. He was benched for a quarter by coach Dennis Erickson last season for head-butting Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz. And he got off to a grand start this month by slugging teammate Kevin Ozier in the locker room ... a "sucker punch" according to some reports ... and enhancing his reputation for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Butkus was known for his intimidation, and Burfict carries it a step further. The Sun Devil isn't satisfied to make tackles (90 last season), he wants to drive ball carriers into the ground and blast them through the sidelines. His reputation as a heat-seeking missile has spread so rapidly that he's prominent on preseason All-America teams, is a favorite for Butkus and Bednarik awards and is Blue Ribbon Magazine's pick for National Defensive Player of the Year. He'd presumably have a shot at the Heisman Trophy if voters considered defense.
How good is Arizona State? We'll know more when the Sun Devils host Missouri on a Friday, Sept. 9, eight days before they come here. But consider that, in a 6-6 season in 2010, they suffered four narrow losses to Wisconsin 20-19, Southern Cal 34-33, Oregon State 31-28 and Stanford 17-13. This looks like a tall hill for the Illini to climb and a major test for Paul Petrino's offense to avoid the nation's best inside linebacker.
Football camp notes
— Illini coaches are hammering the fact that Illinois never has won bowl games in consecutive years, and Illini players have picked up on that mantra.
— Petrino has 15 receivers in his corps. This includes three seniors: A.J. Jenkins, Fred Sykes and transfer Brandon Clear; and four walk-ons including Naperville freshman Hayden Daniels, who'll go on scholarship next year. In moving to Rantoul for 26 workouts, Petrino said: "We need to find out who our playmakers are. To reach Indianapolis (playoff), this group has to be special ... make catches and make tacklers miss. Jenkins has every trait to be a good receiver. He had a huge summer. We texted each other every night."
— On Trulon Henry's move from safety to outside backer, coordinator Vic Koenning said: "It's unfortunate when you have to teach an old dog new tricks. He knows the techniques, but there's a lot of work involved. We want to get our best players on the field, and we're looking for ways to do that."
— No matter how impressive the freshman ball carriers appear (both are better than the coaches expected), Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young won't see much time unless they are effective blockers. Protection is the key to keeping Nathan Scheelhaase healthy and is a major point of emphasis. And starter Jason Ford is a fullback-sized blocker.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.