University of Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman doesn’t sound all that different from most power five conference A.D.s when he speaks in public: Business school journal article meets Ted talk meets colorful motivational Instagram post.
This hybrid of corporatespeak and sentences that sound like they should be accompanied by “Rocky” theme music is not worth even thinking twice about if/when the revenue sports are getting results. Whitman’s jogging analogies and other assorted industry standard leadership pablum would hypothetically work just fine if Illini football and Illini men’s basketball were winning.
We’ll be back, #ILLINI. An ending to this season, yes, but a beginning to a bright future. Appreciate all the support from the ?? family as our journey continues. ?@IlliniMBB? #Family #Believe pic.twitter.com/ev2DrV9oBK
— Josh Whitman (@IlliniAD) March 15, 2019
Or at least we think it would, if/when we actually ever see it. Illini basketball broke the school record for single season losses last weekend, and added on to that total last night at a United Center in Chicago that had a decided home court disadvantage to the Iowa Hawkeyes tonight.
By a winning percentage standpoint, Illinois had their worst record since 1974 and their 5th worst in school history. Consecutive losing seasons for the fourth time in Illinois history has resulted in six straight missed NCAA Tournaments.
Brad Underwood lost only three less games this season than Bill Self lost the entire time he was in Champaign. He lost five more this season than Bruce Weber did his first three years on campus. Underwood is 2-18 in road games at Illinois.
It’s a little early to say that Whitman completely missed the mark on his men’s basketball coaching hire, but the early returns certainly point to a total bust.
Ya think @IlliniAD wanted this one? ?
— Illinois on BTN (@IllinoisOnBTN) March 14, 2019
Whitman is an extremely intelligent man, and it goes without saying that he inherited a total dumpster fire. Three full years and change into the job, unfortunately, this inferno has only swelled, and it shows no signs of calming down any time soon.
If you are all about #WeWillWin and #BELIEVE and other empty sloganeering at this point, then you really should be commended for your faith in him, his hires and the athletic department at large. Faith is often defined as belief without evidence and that is exactly where Illini football and men’s basketball are right now.
Whitman should be praised for his fund-raising prowess and his ambition when it comes to facilities vision. That’s a major, but often very overlooked component of an A.D.’s job. However, facilities, at the end of the day, don’t really matter much to the average fan, alumnus or student.
These people only care about wins, and thus far, the Whitman era hasn’t produced many of them.
He whiffed badly on his football hire, and at the end of the season he doubled down on it as much as he possibly could. Eight days after Illini football surrendered the worst loss in school history, head coach Lovie Smith received an extension and a very loud vote of confidence from Josh Whitman.
Pro tip: don't schedule Iowa for the United Center game next year #Illini
More Professional tip: put the United Center game on hiatus for a bit until the program can build itself up back to respectability and relevance https://t.co/bz4LHUBU0d
— Paul M. Banks (@PaulMBanks) March 15, 2019
While loyalty is a commendable trait, and stability a critical factor for achieving success, consider this analogy:
What if sales at your company this past fiscal year were the second worst since WWII? What if the one signature dimension on which your brand was based had its worst ever numerical output in that area?
Would you see your standing at work/job security improve?
In 2018, Illini football attendance was the second worst of this past half-century. The team, led by a man whose individual brand is defense, gave up exactly 63 points three times, and more points than any previous team in school history.
Smith is 4-23 in the Big Ten and 9-27 overall.
This year’s group of U of I seniors will graduate in May having seen no bowl games nor March Madnesses involving Illinois.
Yes, things deteriorated badly in the tail end of the Ron Guenther/Bruce Weber/Ron Zook era and change was needed. The bottom dropped out again during the Mike Thomas/Tim Beckman-Bill Cubit/John Groce era. A new rock bottom has been found under Whitman/Smith/Underwood.
So where is the ray of hope? Well, at this point if you’re a fan, you’re a fan and you’ll stay all in no matter what. You can try and get excited about recruiting service rankings of incoming players, but
1.) You know, as an Illini fan, much better than to do that. You have seen many a blue chip recruit bust/transfer/flip/transfer, then transfer back/melt-down during the 2010s.
2.) We’ve all started to realize just how overrated and overblown recruiting rankings are, and the “it doesn’t often correspond to winning” science and math is pretty well settled on that. A lot of what recruiting services do is essentially sell snake oil.
But again, if you haven’t abandoned ship by now, you’re a real fan, and you’ll keep believing in Josh Whitman. Right now, it’s very clear he was charged with a task that is a whole lot bigger than him, but it’s hard to argue that regime change right now would make things any better. Honestly, I have no idea what the answer is, but it’s definitely not this.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation.