Illinois, still without an athletics director several months after the departure of Mike Thomas, is reportedly wrapping up interviews with seven candidates this week.
According to a Tuesday report from the Tribune's Shannon Ryan, Illinois spent Tuesday and will spend Wednesday interviewing seven different people in Indianapolis. The candidates are Northern Illinois athletics director Sean Frazier, Washington University athletics director Josh Whitman, Eastern Illinois athletics director Tom Michael, Central Michigan athletics director Dave Heeke, Florida Atlantic athletics director Patrick Chun, Maryland deputy athletics director Kelly Mehrtens and CEO of Tennis Australia and former Illinois tennis coach Craig Tiley.
According to Ryan's report, Illinois is still attempting to get Colorado athletics director Rick George to consider the job, though he declined interest early on in the process. Ryan also reported that Northwestern athletics director Jim Phillips was targeted but declined.
Of the current athletics directors on the list, two are from the MAC (Frazier and Heeke), one is from the Conference USA (Chun), one is from the FCS level (Michael) and one is from Division-III (Whitman).
According to Ryan, Illinois is searching for a candidate with ties to the school. Michael and Whitman are both former Illinois student-athletes. Michael played basketball for the Illini from 1991 to 1994, and Whitman played football for the Illini from 1997 to 2000. Whitman also worked in the Illinois athletics department under former athletics director Ron Guenther.
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Illinois' search for a new athletics director has taken a very long time. Thomas fired former head football coach Tim Beckman in August, a week before the start of the football season, after initial findings from an independent investigation into the football program uncovered that Beckman was mistreating players. When the full report was released in early November — and with it more ugly details of Beckman's behavior — Thomas was through as the school's athletics director.
It wasn't until a full month after Thomas' departure that the school even announced that a search for a new athletics director was underway, with interim chancellor Barbara Wilson announcing that a search committee of faculty members and others with university ties would be conducting the search. Two weeks after that, the school announced the search firm Korn Ferry would help with the search for Thomas' replacement.
And during the process, one report described the search's dysfunction, with candidates contacted via their university email addresses, vetting done in atypical fashion and interest impacted due to Wilson's interim status.