CHAMPAIGN -- Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman's first 13 months on the job has been memorable to say the least. The former football player has solidified himself into Illini lore by hiring and firing multiple coaches, including the school's most visible and important positions: football and men's basketball.
Whitman thanked the UI administration and leadership for their support multiple times during new hoops coach Brad Underwood's introductory press conference on Monday.
"You don't make these kinds of changes, you don't advance a program the way we are today without very strong what we call institutional alignment," Whitman said. "Where people understand and embrace the vision that's put forth."
And that vision is helping put the Illini back on the map. It's a place Illinois hasn't been in men's basketball for years. The UI leaders paved the way for a search waiver to allow Whitman to make the move so quickly. A University policy requires jobs to be posted for at least a week. Underwood's deal was done only five days after the listing was put up.
"Chancellor Jones, President Killeen, our Board of Trustees, they all understand the value of a strong intercollegiate athletic program here at the University of Illinois," said Whitman. "And we've had different points in time in our history when that hasn't existed."
Whitman's had a big part in changing that narrative and he set the bar high last March. On his first official day on the job, he fired football coach Bill Cubit, then turned around and hired Super Bowl coach Lovie Smith just two days later, sending shock waves across the country.
Now one year later, Whitman's done it again. Underwood's name never appeared on lists of potential candidates for the job and that's exactly the Whitman likes it.
"We had a successful process here for three reasons. Number one it was comprehensive, number two it was confidential and number three it was fast."
Underwood says Whitman didn't have to sell the program to him. He was all in when they first met Saturday morning in large part because of Whitman's approach.
"The we will win, that's what I'm about," Underwood said. "When you have your boss, believe that and the commitment that they make to being successful in all sports. That's very, very important and I didn't need anymore than that."
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