Tate: Let AD do his stuff

CHAMPAIGN — It is appropriate for UI fans to expect more success than Jolette Law was able to deliver. Even she would agree.

Is women's basketball a high-priority item? Not when compared with Illini football and men's basketball. They're the twin engines that boosted the athletic budget beyond $70 million and toward $80 million. But women's basketball is spending too much on salaries, distant events and recruiting to fail on such a grand scale.

It needed a jolt. So Mike Thomas did what he was brought here to do. He provided that jolt. To the surprise of no one, the first-year athletic director overruled the Law on Friday. Her ouster won't be as expensive as cutting loose Ron Zook, but it will add to the pile of lost dollars. Law is guaranteed the full $620,000 in the two remaining years of her contract.

Between Zook ($3.2 million), Law and the possibility of a three-year, $3.9 million payout to Bruce Weber, the DIA could be paying a record amount of roughly $7.7 million for three coaches not to coach. This seems overwhelming, but is typical of what's happening in the marketplace. A survey last year found that 51 public universities from the six BCS conferences paid nearly $40 million to dump their coaches.

This raises the question whether Thomas should take a harder look at contractual arrangements that allow ousted coaches to receive full salaries here while working and being paid somewhere else. But this seems to be the nature of things on pension-strapped campuses where golden parachutes are fluttering so thick you can't see the sky.

Watching, waiting

Law's quintet had shown signs, but her five-year record in the Big Ten didn't offer much hope. It is 27-59 (31.4 percent). And the program suffers compared to a successful UI volleyball operation, which pays the head coach approximately half of her salary and yet produces crowds at Huff Hall that more than double the cagers' attendance at the Assembly Hall.

Without embarking on the Hall-Huff debate, the conclusion is obvious: Women's basketball needed something dramatic. And there was little to indicate Law could provide it.

As Theresa Grentz demonstrated, however briefly, women's basketball doesn't have to reside in the conference basement. We live in a state bubbling with high school talent. And the conference is by no means overwhelming, with no Big Ten members approaching the elite level where Baylor, UConn and Tennessee reside.

Check out Penn State. This is a community without much of a basketball culture. The Nittany Lion men draw modest crowds. The Penn State women lost their last 12 games in 2008 and were 32-56 in the Big Ten in the five seasons ending in 2010. But in this, the fifth season for Coquese Washington, she got it turned and they captured the regular season title by two full games. So, yes, with a little ingenuity and a little luck it can be done.

This isn't a call for Illinois to climb Everest or Kilimanjaro. Just be relevant. There is a currently snoozing Illini fan base anxious to be awakened — they might even outdraw volleyball — if women's basketball becomes relevant.

Whine and jeez

My jaw is still agape, and newsroom heads are spinning over the latest UI administrative revelations.

It caused me to question the professionalism at the top, and seek the definition of "whiny," which is "to complain or protest in a childish manner." That's what I thought after reading heavily redacted emails involving UI President Michael Hogan.

I was aware that former AD Ron Guenther had differences with Hogan, who took a particular interest in sports. Hogan's office prevented an attempt by the athletic department to make a mid-level hire that Guenther approved. And Hogan attended conference events previously handled by the chancellor.

More recently, I wouldn't have thought much about Hogan's concern over a portion of Tim Beckman's football contract because, as noted, it wasn't clear due to the email's blacked-out portions. But when he made an issue over not being escorted, along with Gov. Pat Quinn and UI Trustee Lawrence Oliver, to the field after the UI's bowl victory in San Francisco, my jaw dropped. Even if they're slighted, leaders don't act that way. Why not just get on the elevator?

In his quiet hours, new AD Thomas must wonder how he fell into such a contentious atmosphere. He inherited three slipping sports programs in desperate need of change, caught heat from Oliver and James Montgomery for failing to hire a black football coach, is squarely in the eye of the men's basketball hurricane, and is watching a thoroughly dysfunctional operation at the UI's high administrative level.

Hogan is fortified by trustee backing but has lost the faculty. His leadership is greatly diminished. My concern, in the fun and games department, is that Thomas may soon see the necessity of taking on another monster assignment with unnecessary breath on the back of his neck.

What are his restrictions? If he fires an African-American coach, does the hierarchy expect him to find an African-American replacement? Is gender a consideration? If Weber must go, will Thomas have a free hand in replacing him?

You wouldn't expect to see questions like this hovering over a world-class university. But after watching this operation, who knows?

Let the man work. He is the one who'll still be around to answer for his decision.


Why I feel OLD ...
In the distant past I would get a haircut. Now I get my hairs cut ... on almost an individual basis. Actually, I’m thankful for the strands that hung around. But I long for the missing.

Why I feel YOUNG ...
I can’t help myself. Spring accompanies by two favorite pastimes, and here they are: Illini football and the St. Louis Cardinals. Play ball! And let’s see if Tim Beckman’s energetic approach pays off.

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


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read the DI wrote on March 04, 2012 at 7:03 am

Old Man Tate, do you even read your own work?

You write:

"What are his restrictions? If he fires an African-American coach, does the hierarchy expect him to find an African-American replacement? Is gender a consideration? If Weber must go, will Thomas have a free hand in replacing him?

"You wouldn't expect to see questions like this hovering over a world-class university."

And yet you also write:

"This seems overwhelming, but is typical of what's happening in the marketplace."

In the space of a few grafs, you went from contemplating market influence to an unawareness that pressure to hire minorities or women as coaches, not to mention the participation of top administrators, given the amount of money being handed to glorified PE teachers, is now par for the course?

Jeez, Mr. Forgetful. That's really bad, even for you.


OrlandoIllini wrote on March 04, 2012 at 7:03 am

Read the DI:

You quote Tate's comments on two different topics, then portray them as if they addressed the same topic.

The "typical in the marketplace" comment dealt with the cost of coach replacement. The "world class university" comment dealth with the micromanagement of Illini sports by dyfunctional leadership... some trustees and Hogan.

Tate's comments on the two separate topics were accurate and consistent.

--Rodger Wunderlich

Ocoee, Florida


read the DI wrote on March 04, 2012 at 4:03 pm

You completely misunderstood. Both topics reflect the current market.

Leadership -- dysfunctional or otherwise -- is on the hook for the decisions the AD makes. See Penn State, Ohio State, et al. State finances are putting undue pressure on public universities, magnifying the effects of any fiscal mistake. Dealing with those circumstances is just as "typical of the marketplace" as is paying off bad coaches to ply their trade elsewhere.

DaisyJ wrote on March 04, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Ok to disagree with Loren,,but KNOCK OFF THE Old Man stuff..this guy is and always has been a talented writer, still understands and knows more than you will ever think about knowing if you lived for 500 years. He can still analyze with the best of them. On this story, he is reporting what he is seeing, and you my dear Disabled IN the Brain are not in the know like he is in the know, or are you really Ron Guenther. ha ha  Are you so all knowing Mr . Carnack. No,,I am not related to Tate,,and like to spout all sorts of opinion from time to time,,but you are out of line with the attack.

Or, are you saying that you were just about to write this story and had all the info but Tate beat you to it. ha ha (i am grinning as I say ha ha). or,,,did Tate scoop you on another.

read the DI wrote on March 04, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Are you saying he is right, or are you saying he's not old?

I've been putting up with his pathetic ramblings for 35 years. He's long past his expiration date.

LoyalIllini wrote on March 04, 2012 at 7:03 am

"Let the man work. He is the one who'll still be around to answer for his decision".  Unless he does what Guenther did and slip out at night with no accountability for the mess he made, with no outcries either from the merry tribe at the gazoo.

crackerman wrote on March 04, 2012 at 7:03 am

I did'nt read this whole article except for a few paragraphs. Let me say that it looks as though it was bad decision making on Ronnie G's behave to extend the contracts of Zook, Law and Weber that has put Illinois in this position. One losing trip to a Rose Bowl got Zook an extension, one highly rated recruiting class got law an extension, one losing trip to a Final Four got Weber an extension, what have they done since? If a coach can't turn a program around in 4 yrs, cut'em loose! Don't give out extensions and pay raises for mediocrity.

Green Shirt wrote on March 04, 2012 at 8:03 am

Crackerman, While what you say may sound reasonable, it ignores the fact that it is far more difficult for a coach who does not have a contract that will keep him/her around for another three-four years to recruit. 

Moonpie wrote on March 04, 2012 at 4:03 pm

A Tate is a Tate is a Tate.

But I agree on Hogan, who sounds like a pompous emperor.Get over yourself, Mr. Hogan.

Jam wrote on March 04, 2012 at 6:03 pm

It makes sense to me that if Pres. Hogan has as a guest at the bowl game the Governor of Illinois (no matter who it is) that you would want to put the red carpet out as best as you can.  It seems that he assumed that everyone knew what they were doing when in fact Illinois has not been in the postion of Bowl games to often.  With as much money appropriated to UIUC (see all the building on campus) as there is, giving the Governor special treatment in an age when money is tight seems like a good PR move(although perhaps it should be Mike Madigan since he really, really controls the dollar flow out of our state capitals of Springfield and Chicago).

jgrout wrote on March 06, 2012 at 3:03 pm

The key people for the Illinois athletic program are the AD (who runs the program) and the University President and the Board of Trustees (who set policy).  As chief administrator for the campus, the Chancellor does have an influence on athletic policy.  However, as Nancy Cantor (thankfully) found out, it is largely behind-the-scenes influence.

A Chancellor trying to reverse athletic policy in front of the cameras, as Cantor did, is asking to be relieved of their administrative duties.  A little known fact: senior campus and University administrators with academic careers are also tenured professors in their discipline... if they resign (or are relieved of) their administrative duties, they have the same job security as any other tenured professor in their department.