It took a few years, and a second try at hiring a football coach, but Athletic Director Josh Whitman has completely turned the University of Illinois revenue sports around.
For a brief period in November, Illini football and Illini men’s basketball were both nationally ranked at the same time. Prior to this autumn, the last time that happened was 2001. It took two decades for both rev sports to be relevant at the same time, but it’s happened. Illinois is in a traditional New Year’s Day bowl game for the first time in a decade and a half.
If you’re going to bet on that game, or do any online betting in general, you’ll need first, a mostbet login, and second, to know the odds. The Illini are 1.5 pt underdogs to MSU, with the Bulldogs -110 on the Money Line. The over/under is 45.5, with the Illini -105 on the ML.
Reliaquest Bowl Illinois vs #22 Mississippi St. FYIs
Kickoff: Jan. 2, noon ET, ESPN2
Early Game Preview/Matchup Analysis: go here
Illini DC Candidates: go here
Illini Bowl Game History: go here
And it was a very long road for Illinois to get back top a game of this magnitude.
It took a painstaking amount of time for the University of Illinois to find their new Athletic Director, once they finally jettisoned Mike Thomas in 2015, a man who should have been let go much earlier.
Thomas was a disaster hire who made two more disaster hires in Tim Beckman and John Groce. I would argue that Groce was a bigger catastrophe, because he took something solid, in Illini basketball, and totally wrecked it. Yes, the program was on the decline a bit, in the final years of Bruce Weber, but Groce was in way over his head, and this was obvious from the get-go.
Groce plunged the program into new depths not seen in a half-century. The only reason he got to stay for one season under Whitman was because the University took so long to sort out the A.D. situation, and every school that has football must prioritize it first.
It makes the most money, so Whitman had to try and fix it first. And what he, a former Illini football player himself, inherited there was a hot mess. Beckman wasn’t just bad on the field, he was bad off of it, and really bad at talking about it.
Pretty rare for someone to be very bad at what they do, be a bad guy, generally, and bad at public speaking, all at the same time. Beckman was, however, all of these things.
Whitman also had to oust Beckman’s interim successor, who in another disastrous move, had the interim part of his title removed, in Bill Cubit.
Josh Whitman, on his very first official day in charge, took a big swing in hiring Lovie Smith.
Unfortunately, it was a big swing and a miss. Lovie was a bold, fresh idea of a hire, but just a terrible fit for college football. His teams were bad, and they were boring to watch, but Whitman was astute and intelligent in his escape plan, and he got it right the second time, with the Bret Bielema hire.
They even received votes in the College Football Playoff rankings this October.
Bielema is leading a program on the rise. Shifting gears to hoops, Brad Underwood is a turn around artist and a program builder. His first two seasons were pretty brutal, as he set a school record for Ls in his debut campaign. But in year three the team was very good.
In year four they achieved a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a Big Ten Tournament title. In year five they won the Big Ten Conference.
We’re still waiting on NCAA Tournament success, but eventually it should happen, and most likely soon. The current group looks like the kind of team that could earn a #3 or a #4 seed in March, and what they do with it, who knows.
Fluky things have gone against the Illini, over and over again in March. Eventually, the flukiness will be on their side. It’s been a long time coming, but a baseline level of success and solid consistency is finally here.
Credit Josh Whitman for making it happen. The job he has done is amazing, when you consider the really deep hole that he had to climb out of.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Sports Bank. He’s also the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He’s written for numerous publications, including the New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune. He regularly appears on NTD News and WGN News Now. Follow the website on Twitter and Instagram.