Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber knows retiring athletic director Ron Guenther will be hard to replace. He sees all the improvements made in the last 19 years and can only hope the pendulum will continue to swing upward. Regardless, he knows Guenther will be missed.
"There's no doubt. One, he's been great for Illinois. No matter what anyone says, with all the media sources, anyone can say he didn't do this, didn't do that. Financially, we're in tremendous shape, and a lot of places around the country aren't.
"Compliance-wise, we're not perfect by any means, but I think it's very well respected, his leadership and the direction of the program. Academically, they've had great success and support.
"And overall, we haven't won every championship, but we've won some championships. He's redone the football. Baseball has got a nice place, softball does, golf has their new thing. I think the one thing he'd like to still be part of even after he retires is to try to get the Assembly Hall redone. We'll just have to wait and see."
Weber received constant support from Guenther. That is an essential part of the coach-athletic director relationship.
"I appreciate him having faith in me, and he's given us support. He's a great...I think if you talk to coaches, he's a coaches' AD. He was a coach; he understands it. He understands the kids, he understands the parents.
"If you need to talk, he's there to talk. If you need advice or support, he's very reasonable. He leaves you alone. When he feels you need a pat on the back, he'll be there for you."
Weber came under fire for not winning more games last year. Some feel he must make good this year or risk losing his job. That possibility may be magnified with a new athletic director. Weber feels the pressure but refuses to succumb to it.
"You see around the country, new AD, new coach. It's always something where they want their own people. But if we take care of ourself and do what we're supposed to, hopefully we won't have to worry about that."
This is not Weber's first experience with new directors in his life.
"When I was at SIU, I went through three ADs, three or four chancellors and three or four presidents. All you can do is just do your best and hope it works out."
More than anything, Weber hopes the new AD has the same level of integrity and accountability as demonstrated repeatedly by Guenther. Student-athletes are graduating, and run-ins with the NCAA are now a thing of the past.
"You hope the new person has the same passion for Illinois and for doing it the right way and have an appreciation for student-athletes. That's all we can hope for."
Weber must sit back and wait for the announcement of a new athletic director. He is somewhat in limbo but hopes for the best.
"I can't control anything with it. All I can do is do my job."
This is the first of a nine-part interview with the Illini coach. The remaining segments will be published over the next 2-3 weeks.