Loren Tate: Hard work in selling a winning message

Loren Tate: Hard work in selling a winning message

"We Will Win!"

Josh Whitman's motto rings an optimistic bell ... but can become the object of mockery in the wake of seemingly unending losses.

As it stands, the UI's two money sports are languishing. In Big Ten play, the football team has lost 12 straight and 47 of 57. Men's basketball has dropped the last six league games and hasn't had a winning conference season since 2010 (10-8).

Worse yet, the women's basketball team has dropped 16 conference games in a row.

Somehow, Whitman is resolute in his insistence that the glass is half full. He appears forever positive.

"I don't know how you can't be," he stated Saturday, just back from a fundraising trip to Chicago. Whitman estimates he spends "one third or more" of his time planning, building relationships and seeking donations. Meanwhile, the losses mount.

"I understand the frustrations," he said. "But we know the process that we have undertaken. It takes time, and I have full confidence in our 16 head coaches. I believe wholeheartedly in the value of their leadership."

Long-term benefits

Recruiting is a steep mountain for all coaches in losing programs. Blue chip prospects favor winning teams.

"This is not a new phenomenon," Whitman said. "But we see new teams emerge across the country year after year. There are great examples of teams that grow from programs that didn't have great pride to a place of prominence. You have to find the right people who have a vision and can identify talent and develop them."

The latest example is Central Florida, which went from 0-12 in 2015 to a perfect 2017 football season under new Nebraska coach Scott Frost.

Whitman continued:

"When you get the right people together, you find that magical dust, the culture, the feeling ... people who won't accept the status quo. We're getting those kind of people.

"We're like a start-up company making investments on the front end to reap the long-term benefits. By putting resources in the advancement of our football and basketball programs, ultimately they'll be successful, which will allow us to sell more tickets, concessions, parking, merchandise and donations, and then take those revenue streams and invest them for the overall experience of all our athletes."

Working relationships

The football postseason has been marked by two unexpected developments, (1) Lovie Smith fired offensive coordinator Garrick McGee and defensive backfield coach Paul Williams and (2) 10 varsity players, nearly all of them starters at some point, left the program.

Asked about his input with Smith, Whitman said:

"He is the head coach. We talk regularly, and I add input where I think it is appropriate. If I learn about something that gives me pause, I bring it up. I am very supportive of him."

Questioned about the broken relationship between line coach Luke Butkus and McGee, Whitman replied:

"Luke and I have a friendship (they were college roommates) and now have a working relationship. We are careful to keep those lines where they belong. Luke has a great passion for the program, and the nature of our relationship has been a treat for me."

'The challenge is sustaining'

Noting that Brad Underwood's team has dropped three overtime games, Whitman said:

"We've lost some tough ones, and I understand the frustration. To be so close is difficult for all of us, and I feel badly for the coaches and players. If we could only bottle the emotion that we felt after the Missouri game ...

"You can see the intensity on defense. We've done some things unlike anything we've seen defensively in a long time. The challenge is sustaining that. We're not putting it together for the full 40 minutes, and we're not making the plays at the end. That will come."

The pressuring defense, causing turnovers that helped create a 49-29 lead against Iowa on Thursday, permitted 75 points in the last 28 minutes of a 104-97 loss.

Affecting the outcome were 40 UI fouls that allowed Iowa to make 33 free throws, a State Farm Center record for an Illini opponent.

At the same time, Iowa led in rebounds 45-26, as Tyler Cook and Luka Garza ruled the paint with 40 points (11 layups between them) and 24 boards.

The backboard dominance by the only other team without a previous Big Ten win demonstrated how difficult it will be for Illinois to avoid the same conference basement where the UI football team resides.

But if you think that way, you're on a different wavelength from Josh Whitman.

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

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Moonpie wrote on January 14, 2018 at 8:01 am

The inexperinced and naive AD seems to be on the same wavelength as delusional Trump and his absurd wall.

But at least Ancient Tate didn't blame fans as usual. Though, the inexperienced AD did seem to imply that the Illini don't have the right fans--you know, ones who buy a poor product without question.

MasterOfTheObvious wrote on January 14, 2018 at 10:01 am

Luke Butkus was already fired before at Illinois because he could not coach.  The only reason he is back now is because his college roommate is the AD.  Whitman brings up that thy have to not blur the lines with their relationship...hmmm, makes me think that the lines are blurred already, espcially when a proven, successful college football coordinator gets fired.  McGee has been a winning coach in college, Butkus has not.  But hey, I guess if you have the AD as a friend and your Uncle is a school legend, you get a nice big cushy job. I guess it's the OCs fault that the OL was a disaster, but hey, maybe the new OC will be better and all of a sudden there will be a UCF like turnaround here.


UCF is in the American, a league so disrespected that even if you go 13-0 you cannot make the CFP.  Yeah, that's a great analogy Whitman.

When is the last time there was a sudden turnaround of a program in the Big Ten?  

When is the last time a program was turning around without solid recruits?

Oh, and UCF went to the Fiesta Bowl in 2013, and has been in bowls 4 of the last 5 years, only missing when their team went from 9-4 in 2014 to the aforemntoned 0-12 season in 2015 where George O'Leary resigned during the season, inciting chaos.  UCF went 6-7 inder Frost the next year, going to a bowl, and then 13-0 this year.

As Tate points out, Illinois Football has sucked for a lot longer, and has done so against higher level competition in the Big Ten.

Let's be honest about Illinois Football with the following facts;

127 seasons

18 bowl games, which is a bowl game every 7 years on average

15 conference championships, but only 3 in the last 54 years

5 National Championships, but none were consensus and the most recent was in 1951, which was 7 years before Lovie Smith was even born. 

25 times an Illini has been named a Consensus All-American, but that has only happened TWICE in the 21st century (Leman in 2007 and Mercilus in 2011)  

Translation, Illinois is a subpar football state and program.  This is a basketball school.  The AD is a Football centered guy who will make a ego quest of pumping the program.

Basketball is what Illinois is all about.  What programs in the Big Ten are great at both?  Few.  But a D3 AD who pushes tag lines, hires his friends and does not produce results is the guy?

Oh, it's Hockey Time in Champaign.... Game on.



MasterOfTheObvious wrote on January 14, 2018 at 10:01 am

And about those 5 National Championships, a few are not even reconized by the NCAA.

DIA claiming 5 titles is basically, #FakeNews

According to the NCAA http://www.ncaa.com/news/football/article/college-football-national-championship-history

The 1951 National Champion was Tennessee.

The 1914 National Champion was Army.

The 1919, 1923, and 1927 National Championships were all shared, and in 1919 - 4 different schools claimed a part of the National Championship.

1951TennesseeAP, UPI   1927Illinois, YaleHAF, NCF, CFRA   1923Illinois, MichiganCFRA, HAF, NCF, NCF   1919Harvard, Illinois, Notre Dame, Texas A&MCFRA, HAF, NCF, CFRA, NCF, NCF   1914ArmyHAF, NCF


Bwp 5P wrote on January 14, 2018 at 4:01 pm

For years and years....Wisconsin was everyone's Homecoming Sweetheart....then came Barry Alvarez.....and the rest is History.

My point is, It can be turned around relatively quickly, given the right coach, schemes, and most importantly RECRUITS!

I'm still on board.............Go ILLINI

roach wrote on January 20, 2018 at 3:01 pm

The UCF reference is bogus in the sense that this isn't a team that came from the depths that we are at.  Yes, they had a 0-12 season primarily to a coaching change mid season under a fair amount of controversy.  However the three seasons prior to that they were 10-4, 12-1 and 9-4 and the season immediately after bounced back to 6-7.   Hardly the same sitaution we face.