Tate: Negative nellies don't bother AD

CHAMPAIGN — Mike Thomas has seen rebellious throngs first-hand. Not as severe as Quasimodo in "Hunchback." But Thomas has weathered negativism.

The first-year Illini athletic director waded through the aftermath of Bob Huggins' ouster at Cincinnati, when a feverish fan base was frustrated about a controversial but highly successful basketball coach done in by academic shortfalls, a widely publicized DUI and player arrests.

Huggins' Bearcats won at least 25 games on 11 occasions, and qualified for 14 consecutive NCAA tournaments. Many Bearcat fans favored interim Andy Kennedy as successor after he went 21-13 as the 2006 fill-in. New to the job, Thomas instead chose Murray State's Mick Cronin, who promptly went 2-14 in the 2007 Big East season, not exactly a ringing endorsement in a city accustomed to more. After his struggles, Cronin's Bearcats were 26-9 last year, beating Missouri 78-63 in the NCAA tournament before losing to champion UConn.

And when Thomas arrived in October 2005, the football Bearcats were living down the embarrassment of a 70-7 loss to archrival Louisville in the final regular season game of 2004, and trudging through a 2-6 Big East season in 2005.

He has seen the face of negativism. Thus, the grumbling and mean-spirited nature of Illini Nation in 2011-12 — maybe the worst it has ever been — is not new to him. Any degree of pre-planning on his part would have made it obvious that, soon after his arrival, he might be required to make strategic decisions to retain or dismiss coaches in three major UI sports: football and both basketball programs. Like the rest of us, he knew. It didn't sneak up on him.

"The good," says Thomas, "is that Illinois has a fan base that is not apathetic. When people care about your program they're going to express their opinions. When we get to the point where people aren't vocal, you're probably in a worse place. I'll take a passionate fan base that wants to express an opinion over one that's disinterested. It's a greater problem trying to get people interested.

"I am supportive of our coaches. At the end of day we're all in this for the same reason. We want to win championships. As I said throughout the football process, it's not based on this season but on the overall picture. At the end of every season we'll study it."

A tough sell?

The football decision came easy after a season that ended with six straight losses. It's costly, but the Zook buyout (two years at $1.3 million each) and the extra $250,000 for staffers is being handled within a budget that now exceeds $70 million.

"The extra $250,000 increase for staff also includes one added person," Thomas said. "It all falls within the budget plan."

Might changes in other sports stress that budget?

"Money is always a consideration in making these decisions," Thomas said. "It is not the only consideration, but anyone who sits in my position and doesn't pay attention to finances is ultimately going to get himself in harm's way."

When it comes to money, football attendance is at the top of Thomas' to-do list. Illinois showed paid attendance of 45.419 for the final home game with Big Ten champion Wisconsin, and drew more than 51,000 just twice (against Ohio State and Michigan). With Indiana, Purdue and Minnesota on the home schedule this season, along with the likes of Charleston Southern and Louisiana Tech, it'll be a tough sell for a disillusioned fan base.

"We'll begin with an internal audit of how game day functions," Thomas said. "It is so different from basketball where fans drive in, get out of their car, stay two hours and return home. In football it is a game-day event. We cater to a lot of people including kids. There are different constituencies and it's not just what's happening in the stadium but outside as well. We'll make a study on how we go about marketing and selling our program.

"At the end of the day winning cures all problems. If you throw a lot of marketing money at a program that isn't successful on the field it is not going to move the needle very much."

As noted, when Thomas arrived at Cincinnati, football was in the dumps.

"It was probably like a MAC school, like the old days when you had to worry about drawing 15,000 for a game in order to meet Division I regulations," he said. "The stadium was half full. We made some strong marketing moves, but the key was winning. In four of the last five years Cincinnati has won at least 10 games. When I left the stadium was at 97 percent capacity."

If Thomas and new coach Tim Beckman accomplish 97 percent capacity, everything else will take care of itself. And the UI might revert to becoming a "football school" instead of a so-called "basketball school." But when you analyze future football schedules, they'll be bucking long odds in that quest.

Northern lights

Chicago is critical to the UI, but there are aspects to this pro-oriented city that, try as they may, the University of Illinois can never control. This is true in terms of athletic and non-athletic enterprises.

"We have a plan," Thomas said, "and we'll work with the university at large. We have a lot of alumni and people up there that, even if they didn't go to school here, they follow us. The people who have Fighting Illini as part of their DNA, whether it's 5 percent or 95 percent, those are the people we need to capture in terms of recruiting or merchandise or raising money or selling tickets. And there are those who are unattached that we'd like to attract.

"Northwestern has a niche. Or if you're a die-hard Michigan, Notre Dame or Iowa fan, I'm not going to change your mind."

No small part of the Chicago problem is the constant flow of negativism on radio, TV and the Internet.

"People can always find something to be critical about," Thomas said. "We'll do what we can to change people's opinions. Right or wrong, when it comes to talk radio, being negative is usually what gets people to call in. I know. I was in Denver, another pro town. They weren't calling in about University of Denver hockey. It was the Rockies, the Broncos and the Nuggets. They don't call in to give somebody a pat on the back.

"We'll work at it. We have a brand. Is it a national brand? I think most people will tell you it isn't. That's something we need to continue to work on."

Thomas updates

— Thomas met with Beckman on staff hirings, the AD saying: "My main concern, as always, is making sure that the people we hire have clean records. That's my focus. I don't want to get into a pattern of not doing things the right way. I discussed some of those coaches with Beckman. I knew some of them ... Tim Banks, Billy Gonzales. I generally let coaches hire their own assistants."

— The AD is waiting for the signed contract from the engineering and architecture firm that will lay out plans for the Assembly Hall renovation. Bruce Weber said the floor might be dropped as much as 15 feet. Said Thomas: "Their work could take three, four, five months, and then we'll have something tangible to sell (for naming rights)."

— Facility work is ongoing toward hosting the 2013 NCAA tennis tournament, and the bumpy St. Mary's Road between Fourth Street to Lincoln Avenue will be finished. Said Thomas: "This is a university project and we're doing the work ourselves. I am right now in the process of signing the paperwork."

— Mike Small's 300-yard sluggers will be able to haul out their drivers from the bays in the indoor golf facility. Thomas explains: "We already have the best indoor golf facility in the country. Now that a couple of buildings have been removed, we're finishing the outdoor portion."

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

Comments

News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

Moonpie wrote on February 05, 2012 at 8:02 am

How sad and pathetic Moses Saint Tate truly is. Here he is, once again, for decades now, attacking fans and hating them for expressing their views:


"Thus, the grumbling and mean-spirited nature of Illini Nation in 2011-12 — maybe the worst it has ever been"


If he wants mean-spirited, he should look to his conservative political heroes. Doesn't get any more mean-spirited than the tyrannical Romneys and Gingrichs.


One more time, Mr. Mean-Spirited Sports Columnist: fans have the right to say how they see things and you don't have the right to try and shout them down. The Sleepy Gazoo gives you a column, which says a lot about the Sleepy Gazoo, and you can express your take on games -- but please stop trying to tell fans how to think.


Not your job.


Nor is it your job to protect Thomas. Or Weber. They're big boys and can handle the heat.


Really, criticism of fans from a man who uses the phrasing, "On the come"?


Moses is the true believer conservative who wants to silence anyone who disagrees with him.


.

blmillini2 wrote on February 05, 2012 at 9:02 am

what a sad life some people must have-----LT doesn't attack people in the vicious manner that some do him on this site ----is there ever anything positive that  come from these people

 

I thought this was a sports blog -  why so much politics ----

 

maybe we can propose that the ncaa force the "haves" in BB and football to give some of their talent to schools like illinois to allow everyone to be a winner -or should I say losers  - just like wealth redistribution

OKOMIS wrote on February 05, 2012 at 12:02 pm

If we really want to be real world, we should let the Alabama’s, LSU’s, Florida’a etal… promise the NCAA regulator’s and watchdogs watching them, enormous paying jobs at their schools in a year or two for looking the other way as they  violate rules.. that would be the real SEC way!!!!

PeterE wrote on February 05, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Mike Thomas should give Bruce Weber a 5 year extension and huge raise. Clearly Bruce is one of the best coaches in America and Illini Nation doesn't even deserve this genius.

walker wrote on February 05, 2012 at 9:02 am

hey moonpie, I have a great suggestion for you that I am certain will make your life a lot easier. STOP READING TATE & THE GAZOO ALTOGETHER.  It might allow for you to ease up and slowly rid yourself of all the disfunction that continuosly spills out of you.  By the way, I'm thinking that you represent maybe 2% or so of the fan base in your opinions (at least the ones that you articulate with any kind of clarity we can follow)   BTW, It was clear to everyone that you were a democrat on steriods, so you don't need to state the obvious.


 

Moonpie wrote on February 05, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Hi, walker. It's so funny and predictable that you would try to use a label that does not apply whatsover: certainly you disagree with my comments, but there's nothing dysfunctional about standing up for fans, who are entitled to post their views here.


Instead of offering inaccurate labels, you might, for example, say you disagree and then make a convincing case for why. But, like all true locstep believers, you shout insults instead of offering compelling rebuttal based on facts, expert testimony etc.


Moses Tate does not think fans shouild express their views if they disagree with him or are negative toward Illini sports. You apparently support that rather dictatorial view. That's your right -- but you offer nothing to convicne anyone as to why it's a good idea to crush dissent.


True believers rarely have effective arguments. Instead, they believe if they shout looder than someone else, they "win."


Good luck with that and be sure to vote for Romney. If you are rich, he'll take care of you. If you're not rich, you'll be voting against your own economic interests.


And you know why politics unfortunately appear on this board? Because Moses Tate makes it political. But you just keep on defending the mean-spirited old curmudgeon and stay in lockstep.


And don't forget to come up with another inaccurate label for me as you avoid compelling arguments.


Perhaps you should contact Moses and the Sleepy Gazoo and ask them to eliminate these boards. Or only allow posts that agree with Tate. You know -- live in a bubble.

illiniart wrote on February 05, 2012 at 9:02 am

Is there anybody who provides less valuable input or who is more negative than this Moonpie person?


 

read the DI wrote on February 05, 2012 at 9:02 am

Yes -- Loren Tate. He's a total shill for the administration. In exchange for "scoops," he acts a mouthpiece, floating trial ballons to see whether the public will accept what the admins are thinking. It's been that way for years.

(And don't think Old Man Tate doesn't have rabbit ears. He is hypersensitive to criticism. Just ask anyone who's worked at the Gazette.)

Moonpie wrote on February 05, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Yes, illiniart, there is someone more negative: Moses Saint Tate.


And the surrogates in lockstep behind him.


Have a nice day.

toddalan1975 wrote on February 05, 2012 at 9:02 am

OH  I don't know.   I get what moonpie is saying.   I like Loren Tate, but I don't always agree with him.   He is definately old and grumpy at times and if you call in to his show and don't agree with him he tries to bash your thoughts and ideas down because after all ,  he is right lol.

 

Having said that, I do believe that many fans go overboard on here and other sites.   Certainly all fans have the right to their opinion, but that doesn't make them right either.   In no situation is it right in my opinion for fans to boo student athletes or coaches at this level.   You may be booing the coaches but them players think your booing them and then how does that look to potential recruits??    Most of the same fans that are critical of the coaches need to be critical of themselves because they do affect recruiting.  

OKOMIS wrote on February 05, 2012 at 12:02 pm

 Seeing how the students are unpaid kids, I agree.. as to grown men making 2 million a year to coach, I think we can boo…oh…and as a 30 year Florida resident, the treatment Zook got down here made his Illinois stay look like a love fest… the constant personal hate attacks didn’t hurt the Gators recruiting after their “fire Zook.com” campaign finally worked..

Moonpie wrote on February 05, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Thanks, toddalan75. And you are right: things can quickly go overboard here.


Tate helps create the problem. He is way out of line to bash fans who disagree with him on a board that is offered for fans to express their views.


Maybe the Sleepy Gazoo should re-name it The Agree With Tate board and allow only views they like.


Which would be rather un-American.

DaisyJ wrote on February 05, 2012 at 10:02 am
  • These "Nellies" that Tate speaks of have already made Thomas make a move,,and we all know that Weborn is on the bubble so just maybe Thomas is hearing enough of the "Nellies" to make what would be two giant changes to the two BIGGEST sports at the U of I...And we all know that with Weborn it is not if but when,,,and if Tate thinks the negative talk is ignored,,,well, just ask Zook about that....The real thing about being accused of being Negative,,,it is as if you are wrong if you state your point of view...I know way back when , the Brittish had issues with it, and I believe Saddam had his way of dealing with Negative people,,,but we all know that if you do not speak up,,the same old same old just keeps on happening,,and those in charge want to label those that want change as negative,,but had we not had some negative with Zook, he would still be HERE.
1IlliniFan wrote on February 05, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I wish Moonpoo would simply shut his trap.
This forum is for Illini faithful who like to read about sports not a forum for political views. It is ironic that I disagree with moonpoo' s views on Mr. Tate and other topics.
Your cancer isn't welcome.

Moonpie wrote on February 05, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Hi, 1illinifan. Think about what your argument is: if someone disagrees with you, they must be silenced. That's because you can't offer a compelling argument for why it's okay for everyone to think the same and why no should be allowed to disagree with you or Moses Tate or the Sleepy Gazoo.


You know, the way Stalin had it going in The Soviet Union.

DaisyJ wrote on February 05, 2012 at 3:02 pm

I am ok with your ranting all you want...but this Stalin guy you talk of,,,I do not think it would have taken him long to find you , and my guess is that he would have his way with you.

1IlliniFan wrote on February 05, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Silenced??? next you will call me a racist because I have an opposing view.
You are mixing politics with sports. These are two seperate issues and shouldn't be confused.
If you need a sounding board for your political view, I suggest a different forum other than a college website focused on sports.

1IlliniFan wrote on February 05, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I wish Moonpoo would simply shut his trap.
This forum is for Illini faithful who like to read about sports not a forum for political views. It is ironic that I disagree with moonpoo' s views on Mr. Tate and other topics.
Your cancer isn't welcome.

billyh23 wrote on February 05, 2012 at 4:02 pm

why would the AD care about what everyone else thinks ?

He knows what has to be done.

He knows that this basketball team needs a new leader

Fire Weber now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

IlliniOllie wrote on February 05, 2012 at 7:02 pm

"The good," says Thomas, "is that Illinois has a fan base that is not apathetic. When people care about your program they're going to express their opinions. When we get to the point where people aren't vocal, you're probably in a worse place. I'll take a passionate fan base that wants to express an opinion over one that's disinterested. It's a greater problem trying to get people interested."

The program is headed towards apathy. For now, it's negativity. However, when you've got 3,000+ empty seats for a home game, and the loudest cheers are reserved for the jump roping kids at halftime (who, I will say, were very impressive, but c'mon), it's on its way to apathy.

Show Mike Thomas some videos of 60+ home sellouts, of the Hall rocking from 2000-2006. That should tell him all he needs to know about the direction of Illini basketball under Bruce Weber.

PeterE wrote on February 06, 2012 at 8:02 am

Disappointment, frustration, dissatisfaction, disgust and now apathy have set in.

Thanks Bruce for sinking a once proud basketball school into mediocrity!

illini_Legit_AD wrote on February 06, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I think moonpie has valid points but they get lost in the delivery.  Tate's job requires him to have a good relationship.  He needs Weber or Zook/Beckman for interviews.  He needs his "sources" to feel comfortable releasing information to him.  Part of being a good journalist is being able to keep these relationships in tact while actually telling the story as it is.  LT puts everything in a positive light regardless just to make sure his contacts are safe and secure.  Fans have seen the general direction of the revenue makers as a downward direction. What is frustrating is it has taken Illinois athetics getting to a relative rock bottom before anything is done to change these directions.  Did we really need 6 consecutive losses to know Zook may not be the best gameday coach?  Did we really need an up and down basketball season to know Weber is not connecting and developing his team?  Fans knew the answers to these questions a year and a half ago yet here we are, one coach 2 months into his postion and another coach 2 months until he is out of his position.  These are feelings fans have had for almost 2 years, but the general arch of LT stories over that time would indicate an athletic program that is in a far different place than where Illinois currently is.  LT may take a jab from time to time, but in general he protects his sources.