Tate: Decision on Guenther in works

Tate: Decision on Guenther in works

Read Tate's Monday chat transcript here.

"Oh, it's a long, long time/From May to December,

But the days grow short/When you reach September."

From Frank Sinatra to Willie Nelson, those were the lyrical expressions. And now the time line of "September Song," from all appearances, could belong to Ron Guenther. He may continue as athletic director beyond his June 30 contract, but it is now a matter of months, not years ... maybe September, maybe December.

"I like working with Ron," said Michael Hogan, first-year UI president, at The News-Gazette on Monday. "We've had several meetings about him staying a little longer. Discussions are still ongoing and we should have this resolved in the next 7-8-9 days. He's such a great AD. I really like working with him. Just take a drive down Kirby Avenue and you'll see many of his accomplishments ($300 million in improvements).

"I'd want to see a chancellor in place before we make a change. I'm not crazy about making that decision by myself."

After more than an hour Monday listening to Hogan on university-related issues, it's clear that his 10 months on the job have been consuming, leaving him little time to demonstrate his intense interest in athletics.

Of immediate concern is the replacement of interim Chancellor Bob Easter, with what Hogan called "a good pool of applicants preparing for off-campus interviews."

If a new chancellor is on hand by the first of August, it would presumably take another month or two for the newly hired campus administrator to get acclimated and begin the search for a new athletic director ... which would necessitate Guenther's extension into the 2011 football season.

Holding pattern

"When the autumn weather/Turns leaves to flame,

One hasn't got time/For the waiting game."

Guenther stated weeks ago that he would soon clarify his status. Part of his hesitation has been uncertainty about Easter's replacement, to whom Guenther reports.

The timing in that regard, and in operating with a new UI Board of Trustees, has been awkward.

When Guenther waited six weeks to personally present his Assembly Hall feasibility study to the board, he was ultimately informed that it wasn't necessary (they were too busy), so he gave board members a written proposal.

As it stands now, according to Hogan, Guenther's timeline for stepping down depends on him.

"He will decide," Hogan said, repeating, "We'd much prefer to hold off the national search until the chancellor is in place."

Part of the consideration is Guenther's involvement in planned renovation of the Assembly Hall, now in the feasibility stage.

"He's wrestling with that," said Hogan. "The Assembly Hall is his passion. He is in the process of lining up external personnel (a construction manager and an architect-engineering firm) for that job."

While that massive undertaking won't be completed while Guenther is athletic director, there is talk that he might stay on to help with fund-raising and on-sight planning.

"We're trying to figure out which direction we're going to go," said Hogan.

End in sight

"Oh, the days dwindle down/To a precious few."

From here, this is how it looks. After much soul-searching, the 65-year-old Guenther sees the light at the end of the retirement tunnel. Yes, he might be convinced to keep his hand in the Assembly Hall job.

But Hogan gave every indication, without being specific, that sometime in 2012 will find the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics under new leadership.

This will please fans unhappy with a football program that has attended just six bowl games in 19 years and posted the second-worst Big Ten record (above only Indiana) in the past decade. Guenther kept the athletic program out of the red, but has been widely criticized for extending head coaching contracts in football and women's basketball in the face of moderate, at best, success.

But, from Hogan's standpoint, it is a clean and well-run department.

"Look at the bad news from some of my former locations (UConn and Ohio State)," he said, "and all the issues popping up around the country."

And at his home base, Hogan is consumed in problems — staff salaries, health care issues, pension problems, a desire to avoid furloughs, a shortfall of $312 million from the state, staff retention efforts, reviewing splintered fund-raising, trustee dealings, lobbying in Springfield and Chicago — leaving the fun-and-games area low on his radar.

He arrived in Champaign-Urbana with the university in a state of crisis, and sports wasn't then and isn't now on his priority list.

"I've spent more time with faculty governance in the last 10 months than I did at Iowa (provost) and Connecticut (president) combined," he said.

But with Guenther's contract running out June 30, one more load is heaped on his platter. And it appears Guenther will only remain as long as required for a smooth transition.

"And these few precious days/I'll spend with you,

These precious days/I'll spend with you."

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

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TotalIlliniFan wrote on May 10, 2011 at 6:05 am

I would chose different songs and lyrics - no love lost for me. He has been an arrogant AD.

Jam wrote on May 10, 2011 at 6:05 am

Nice article Loren. The AD has done a great job in pursuing excellence while keeping the UI athletic program out of the bulls eye of the NCAA. History will be his friend as people look back on Mr. Guenthers tenure as one of advancing the UI program to be competitive without being charged with corruption.

jonezjayson wrote on May 10, 2011 at 7:05 am

No mention of the enormous opportunity cost of ignoring the Chicago market for the better part of 2 decades? This is hardly a fair assessment.

And let's be serious, Hogan is facing huge pushback from professors and administrators alike by instituting tougher accountability measures. Juxtaposing his proposals with accountability tactics in the DIA would have been an intellectually honest article. This article is simply a reason for keeping Guenther around because there are (justifiably) more important issues on campus.

IlliniOllie wrote on May 10, 2011 at 7:05 am

Ron Guenther is the Bill Wirtz of Illinois athletics. At this point, the best thing he can do for the program is leave.

88-132-2. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Coach Guenther.

JimOATSfan wrote on May 10, 2011 at 7:05 am

Sign him up for another 12 months ... and keep it simple. He's done an excellent job with the sports facilities and most of the sports programs.

Right now it reads like Michael Hogan is overwhelmed with the financial issues at the UofI, which mirror the nation as a whole. Remember there are over 40 million unemployed in the US and also over 40 million on food stamps.

Sports is really just a pleasant diversion - as it always has been.

Just sayin ... Go Illini

illini82 wrote on May 10, 2011 at 8:05 am

19-20 years in the same leadership position is a long time for any one person or organization. Especially since it's a position at a public institution. RG has done some good things most notably staying out of the red financially and overseeing clean programs. The building program at MS and other athletic buildings are also a testament to him but, much of the building program was just "keeping up with the Jones" compared to other B10 and BCS conference programs.

Illinois is also the ONLY B10 program without a men's swimming and diving program and will soon be one of only 2 or 3 in the conference without a first class aquatics and diving facility. We still await the promised new "Olympic Sports" facility. The hockey team is still in club status even though it generates good fan support and is a winning program.

But the glaring issues to the average fan has been the unacceptable underachievement of football under his near 20 year tenure and now a 5 year long "slump" in basketball. Basketball at one time seemed impervious to a prolonged period of mediocrity.

Loyalty and secrecy to a fault have been his hallmark during his tenure here. That and his very top down and autocratic management style. A style that has gone the way of GM and the dinosaur at most institutions. He scored one home-run hire while here with Self but, was unable or unwilling to do what it took to retain him. The Turner hire wasn't as questionable as his decision to keep him one more year. A year that could have been used to try to rebuild a failing program. Instead it was another wasted year. Loyalty, it seemed, was the reason he kept RT. Equally questionable were the decisions to extend Zook's contract after a 5-7 season and Law after a disaster season. Getting Petrino and Koenig as new co-ordinators was a good move but how long will they stay and is Zook still HC material?

Success in football is paramount to the financial well being of the DIA as fannies in the seats and other football related revenues drives funding for many of the non-revenue sports as well as major program coaching salaries. Now basketball is in danger of losing several thousand ticket buyers as well. A thought unthinkable just a few short years ago.

So a change is due. Hopefully for the better.

jjohnson wrote on May 10, 2011 at 9:05 am

JimOATSfan:Right now it reads like Michael Hogan is overwhelmed with the financial issues at the UofI, which mirror the nation as a whole. Remember there are over 40 million unemployed in the US and also over 40 million on food stamps.

Sports is really just a pleasant diversion - as it always has been.

Just sayin ... Go Illini

Thanks for intelligence and perspective.

kzimmer001 wrote on May 10, 2011 at 10:05 am

Ron Guenther has done an admirable job as Illinois AD and deserves cake. But it's time for a change. We need new vision and direction in many ways.

Illinois can and should do things the right way, and still be good in football and a power in basketball. I hope the new president and eventual AD think that way.