EIU Hires U Of I’s Michael As Athletic Director
Eastern Illinois University has hired University of Illinois administrator Tom Michael as the Panthers' new athletic director.
EIU announced Monday that Michael will take over on Aug. 11 He replaces Barbara Burke who left in April for Tulane University.
Michael is the senior associate athletic director at Illinois. He has been a key figure in that school's ongoing renovation of the State Farm Center basketball arena. Michael was also a basketball player at Illinois in the early 1990's.
Michael said in a news release that the 18 years he has worked at Illinois have prepared him to take over at EIU.
Dan Nadler is EIU's vice president of student affairs. He called Michael a "well-rounded administrator'' who will be committed to athletic and academic development at the Charleston school.
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University of Illinois Trustees are poised to vote on a 2-year extension for the school’s athletic director.
Fighting Illini men's basketball coach Bruce Weber will not return next season.
U of I Athletics Director Mike Thomas has announced that Weber, whose team lost to Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday, has been dismissed.
Weber came to Illinois in 2003, and guided the team to its first Big Ten title in more than 50 years, and a berth in the Sweet 16. In his second season, the team earned another Big Ten title, finishing with a record of 37-2, losing only to North Carolina in the NCAA title game. But the Illini have had a rocky season, losing 12 of their last 14 games. The Illini closed the year 2-12.
Weber said he is proud of what he accomplished at Illinois, but knows coaching is a bottom-line business.
"Trying to get us to come together as a team, we all had a link and mine was the last one," Weber said. "I only wish I could have connected it, and we had something special to finish the season."
Assistant Coach Jerrance Howard will fill in for Weber on an interim basis. Athletic Director Mike Thomas said a national search will begin to find a new head basketball coach.
"We will move quickly, but we will move diligently, and I'm excited about the prospects of this program for the future," Thomas said. "Certainly, a key to that is feeling like we have the right person in place to lead what is a very national program. "
Weber has three years remaining on his contract, and will receive a buyout of $1.3 million annually.
This is the third dismissal for Thomas, who fired football coach Ron Zook and dismissed women's basketball coach Jolette Law a week ago.
Jolette Law has been released as the University of Illinois' Women's Basketball Coach.
Law finished with a record of 69-93 in five seasons, including 11-19 in the just completed 2011-2012 campaign. The season ended Thursday with a 68-53 loss to Michigan in the first found of the Big Ten Tournament.
Law's Big Ten Record in five seasons was 27-59, with a highest conference finish of 8th place in 2009.
"Really, we need to be at a point where we're competing at a high level - the same expectations I have for the other 18 sports," U of I Athletic Director Mike Thomas said in an afternoon press conference. "And at the end of the day from a competitive standpoint, I just didn't feel that we were trending that way. Not having a history of winning in recent times or at a high level certainly affects other things with the program."
Thomas says the decision was difficult based on the fact that she's a 'terrific person, and tremendous role model for her students.'
He says a national search will begin for Law's replacement. She had two years remaining on her contract, and will receive a $620,000 buyout over that time.
Thomas says the criteria for a replacement won't necessarily mean someone who's held the same job elsewhere.
"I don't think I want to go into a situation and paint myself into a corner," he said. "I think certainly having head coaching experience is attractive in a lot of ways, but I certainly wouldn't restrict it to those who are head coaches only."
"I would like to thank (former athletic director) Ron Guenther and the Illini Family for the opportunity to represent the people of the state of Illinois as their Head Women's Basketball Coach," Law said in a statement released today. "I have found great joy in coaching, teaching, and guiding a group of remarkable young women. We have laid a good foundation for great things to happen in the near future. I wish nothing but the best for Mr. Thomas, the program, the University, and of course my student-athletes."
In her first season, she guided the Illini to a 20-15 record, including an historic run in the 2008 Big Ten Tournament, winning three games and advancing to the championship game before losing to Purdue on a buzzer-beater. After earning at WNIT bid, Law led the Illini to the third round in the tournament. But none of her teams had a winning record in the Big Ten and none made it to the NCAA tournament.
In 2011, the Illini fell back to 9-23 overall, finishing last in the Big Ten with a 2-14 mark.
Law came to Illinois from Rutgers, where she was an assistant under C. Vivian Stringer for 12 years. That included a trip to the 2007 NCAA title game.
Illinois hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 2003 and hasn't been ranked since 2000.
Ron Zook's first time addressing the media as the University of Illinois' former football coach was not about what went wrong this season or the future of his career. Instead, he recognized some of the people who backed him over his seven-year stint at the U of I.
In a Sunday afternoon press conference in the U of I football squad room, Zook didn't take questions. Rather, he simply said thank you to many, including former athletic director Ron Guenther for giving him a chance, current AD Mike Thomas, and U of I President Michael Hogan. Zook says sometimes, their jobs include making difficult decisions, and he respects that.
But the now-former coach says there's a lot to look forward to in the football program's future.
"I see our facilities - team - the foundation in place - two terrific bowl trips, and hopefully a third this year," said Zook. "If it falls right, our fifth year seniors will get their third bowl trip. And our players can become the first at our school with two bowl victories. I think our program is very close, I really do. We just didn't quite finish a few games here and there, and I'm proud of how close we are."
If the Illini are selected for a bowl game, it would mark their first back to back bowl appearances since 1991 and 92. Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will serve as interim coach.
Zook got a bit emotional, pausing when thanking his players, some of them who were in the press conference, calling the team a family. Zook says he wants to make sure the players are ok, and "for that reason, it's not the time to entertain questions, after I've had some time to digest and reflect, I think will be a better time for that, I hope you all understand. Thank you."
With that, Zook left the podium following a 2 and a half minute statement.
U of I Athletic Director Mike Thomas says the search for a new football coach begins immediately. But he wouldn't name specific candidates, or give a timeline for that search. And Thomas says he wouldn't rule out someone without head coaching experience, noting that academics and recruiting are also important.
He says another key factor for coaching at Illinois is success within the Big Ten conference, where the winning percentage was about 30-percent under Zook.
"So I think when you look at us first of all in a conference, are we competitive in a very good football conference?," said Thomas. "But when you're competing at the highest level, as you see with the other teams that are doing that right, that's when your name is in the national picture, they're talking about you for BCS Bowl games, and you're traditionally thought of a Top 25 team."
Thomas says he made the decision to dismiss Zook after Saturday's 27-to-7 defeat at Minnesota. He says it's easy to use the economy as an excuse for lighter attendance at Illini games, but he notes other schools are finding ways to fill the stadium. Thomas says that comes down to the quality of play on the field.
"This program - you need to feel like there's hope around it, and that people are getting excited, and that people are selling tickets," he said. "And when an Ohio State or a Wisconsin shows up, that the stadium is being sold. As a matter of fact, demand exceeds the capacity, and that's not really where we're at right now, but the hope is that someday we get there."
Zook is 34-51 at Illinois. He took the 2007 team to the Rose Bowl and lost to USC. Last season's squad beat Baylor in the Texas Bowl.
Ron Zook talks to the media on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011 hours after being fired as the University of Illinois' football coach