You have to appreciate the job Jim Phillips, Northwestern Vice President for Athletics and Recreation is doing right now in Evanston. Certainly so when compared against his counter-part in Champaign, University of Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas.
The juxtaposition of the two ADs is long overdue, especially in wake of Thomas experiencing a Lane Kiffin or George W. Bush style failing upward.
Quoting CBS Chicago Dave Wischnowsky:
Illinois’ third-year athletic director was awarded by the school’s board of trustees with a contract extension through Aug. 28, 2019, and a salary bump of $50,392 that pushes Thomas’ base compensation to $554,320 annually.
Those rewards come in spite of the fact that Thomas’ hand-picked football coach is 6-18 overall and 1-15 in the Big Ten, his hand-picked basketball coach is currently mired in a six-game Big Ten losing streak and fans’ attendance at both Memorial Stadium and State Farm Center doesn’t exactly have the ticket office jumping for joy.
Indeed that losing streak would reach eight before finally ending last night. Illini basketball is currently bogged down in the program’s worst season since 1999. If Mike Thomas gets five more years of making more than half a million dollars, with a 50 grand pay raise…then what should Jim Phillips get at NU, considering that he’s actually accomplishing something?
By these standards, Jim Phillips deserves $950,000 a year, with a $250,000 raise and a 25 year extension.
This is about business, and winning games in the revenue sports is what is best for business, so absolutely you can compare these apples to oranges institutions. They may be completely different, but the overall objectives are the same. Win and make money.
Add in the fact that ever since Mike Thomas took over for Ron Guenther the “rivalry” is “back on.” Both A.D.s are in a direct competition for Chicago, the nation’s third largest market, and their marketing efforts have been altered in recent years to obviously convey that. As someone who covers both programs in both sports regularly, it’s high time someone did the head-to-head comparison
Football: the revenue sport of all revenue sports, succeeding here matters more than anything. Yes, even at a basketball school like Illinois. Mike Thomas made a complete disaster hire in Tim Beckman. That’s not news to anyone. Beckman is in way over his head. How he beat Thomas’ alma mater Cincinnati, and so decisively at that, we’ll never know. Beckman has made Illini football a laughingstock and the ever shrinking crowds reflect that. The student apathy in Champaign is at a new depth. Beckman continues to embarrass the program, and he did it again on National Signing Day; on numerous levels. There isn’t much of a light at the end of the tunnel either.
Pat Fitzgerald suffered through his worst season ever at NU. Still, they got ESPN College Gameday in Evanston!!! Well, at least they go to bowl games, and they do sell out their stadium for conference games….with half the crowd wearing red. Because now, 70% of the Big Ten wears red. And Jim Phillips has gotten the ball rolling on the new football practice facilities.
Big Advantage to Jim Phillips
Basketball: Who actually buys out a women’s basketball coach? Who actually cares about women’s basketball enough to spend the time and money on a sport with such a miniscule following? Mike Thomas does. I have to admit ignorance on women’s college basketball because I’ve met so few people that care about it, so maybe buy-outs are common in the sport, I don’t know. I have heard that the Illini are in last place in the Big Ten; matching the last place standing of the men’s team.
Yes, it’s the worst season in 15 years in Champaign, but next year will be much better. The three transfers (Ahmad Starks, Aaron Cosby, Darius Paul) will be eligible and that should provide an upgrade at 2/5 starters for next season, maybe 3/5 if John Groce finds a genius way to juggle his starter minutes. For the first time in forever, Northwestern has a higher rated recruiting class than Illinois. That fact, coupled with NU and the Wildcats winning the one head to head meeting has some people believing that NU basketball is in a much better state overall and moving forward than Illinois basketball. To that argument I just….LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL. No one can honestly believe that.
Chris Collins may or may not elevate the program to new heights. Whether you like the job he’s doing or not is a different point from debating if his team will be superior to Illinois next season. NU needs a superior recruiting class just to even compete with Illinois. There are three impact transfers coming to Champaign, plus the Illini lose just Jon Ekey and Joe Bertrand from this year’s team, which isn’t very much. NU loses Drew Crawford; which is kind of a big deal. Not only will NU not be better than Illinois next year, I’m not sure they’re even better right now. Illinois is 13-10 versus Division I with an RPI of 78. Northwestern is 12-12 with an RPI of 96. They have a slightly better Big Ten record at 5-6 versus 3-6.
Yes, John Groce is suffering through the most painful to watch Illini season since 1999, and he stayed too committed to his veterans for too long. However, he’s got a nice start going in 2015 recruiting, far ahead of Collins in this regard, and he won a NCAA Tournament game last year. Groce took a team that quit on Bruce Weber, and with the subtraction a NBA lottery pick from that team, Groce still got them to win something in March Madness.
Of course, Groce wasn’t Mike Thomas’ number one, or two, or three option. So, as much as I still like the Groce hire, I give some credit to Thomas, but not a ton.
Facilities: Welsh-Ryan Arena is Tim Beckman in basketball venue form. It’s bad at it’s job by mid-major standards, let alone Big Ten standards. You will never, in a zillion years, ever convince me why NU all of a sudden needs to prioritize a new football practice facility ahead of a basketball facility upgrade. It doesn’t make any sense. Don’t get me started on the NU basketball practice facility either.
Mike Thomas has gotten the Assembly Hall upgrades in motion. That he has accomplished. Let’s give him kudos.
Advantage: Mike Thomas
Overall Advantage: Jim Phillips
Paul M. Banks owns The Sports Bank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. An MBA and Fulbright scholar, he’s also a frequent analyst on news talk radio; with regular segments on ESPN,NBC, CBS and Fox. A former NBC Chicago and Washington Times writer, he’s also been featured on the History Channel. President Obama follows him on Twitter (@paulmbanks)