Illini A.D. Ron Guenther, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley Step Down Today

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Today, two leaders in the Land of Lincoln’s prominent leadership positions stepped down today. We saw both abdications coming for a long while, and it’s just coincidence that both media stories happen to fall on the same day. Although, both of these men became the longest serving in the history of their respective roles and came to power around the same time.

Today, Rahm Emanuel was sworn in as the 46th mayor of Chicago, he is the hand-picked successor to Richard M. Daley, and assumes his role in an old-fashioned political  “switcheroo” as Daley’s brother, William now has Rahm’s old position- White House Chief of Staff. The post has been deemed “The Second-Most Powerful Person in Washington” due to the nature of the job.

Illinois Director of Athletics Ron Guenther announced today his retirement upon the completion of his contract on June 30. The longest-tenured athletics director in the Big Ten, Guenther leaves the position after 19 years in which Fighting Illini teams captured 34 Big Ten Championships, made a men’s basketball Final Four appearance (2005) and made six football bowl appearances (2010, 2007, 2001, 1999, 1992, 1991).

By Paul M. Banks

Unlike Daley, he still has power today, and he will instead relinquish his on Canada Day, July 1st, 2011.

“After giving considerable thought I have made the decision not to extend my contract as Athletic Director and will retire on July 1, 2011,” Guenther said. “For the last several months, I have been working with Chancellor Easter and administration on a succession plan for my position. A search committee is being formed and will begin work immediately to find my successor. I am confident an outstanding leader can be in place by mid-to-late summer.

Under his tenure, the UI made unprecedented strides in facilities, with the $121 million Memorial Stadium Renaissance project becoming the biggest construction project in the history of the institution. Other major facilities completed while Guenther was athletics director includes the Irwin Indoor Football Facility, the Ubben Basketball Practice Facility, Illinois Field for baseball, Eichelberger Softball Field and the Irwin Football Complex.

Long considered one of the nation’s top athletics fundraisers, Guenther has been instrumental in soliciting gift commitments totaling more than $300 million toward capital improvements at Illinois during the last 19 years.

Endowment fundraising under Guenther’s leadership has gone from $2 million invested to more than $40 million in 2011, with an additional $40 million pledged. In the same fashion, the annual fund has grown from $2.4 million to nearly $8 million this year. As a member of the UI Library Brilliant Futures Campaign steering committee, he initiated a $1 million gift from the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics to the campaign.

As this is a sports site and not a political one, we’ll continue on about Guenther, and no more about Daley. Although I do highly recommend this Chicago Now post, here’s a snippet to give you a hint of its tone:

The clown prince of mayors, Richard “King” Daley, left a huge mess. All the accolades that Daley has received simply for having been so corrupt that he became untouchable is nothing to celebrate. He’s left a fiscal disaster in this city and I don’t envy Emanuel (or anyone else that would have become mayor) for the mess he faces.

Whatever the case, we won’t see any garble-mouthed press conferences from Mayor Emanuel. We won’t see unguarded moments. Emanuel is tightly scripted and he won’t allow his staff to go off talking points

Back to Guenther, Ron began his career as an Illini football player in 1963 as a freshman on the Big Ten championship/Rose Bowl squad featuring Dick Butkus and Jim Grabowski. He went on to earn team MVP honors as a senior in 1966, when he also was named second-team All-Big Ten as an offensive guard.

A native of Elmhurst, Ill., and a graduate of York High School, he lettered at Illinois in 1965 and 1966, helping Illinois to a 24-14-1 record in his four seasons. Guenther earned team MVP honors on a squad that produced five All-Americans in 1966. He was inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.

“Ron has been involved in college athletics for more than 45 years in a variety of different roles, but, obviously the last 19 years as our athletics director. I’ve always said he’s a coaches’ AD because of his own experience as a coach. He knew when to get involved and when not to be involved and was very supportive. I will miss his leadership within the DIA, and will always be grateful for the opportunity he gave me here at the University of Illinois.”

–Bruce Weber, Illinois Men’s Basketball Coach

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports

You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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