OFFICIAL: Josh Whitman named Illini AD

After three-month process, Illinois hires young, rising Division III athletic director to usher in new era of Illini athletics

UPDATE, Wedneseday, 4:30 p.m.

Illinois has officially announced Josh Whitman as its new athletics director. A press conference will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday in Champaign. He will also meet media in St. Louis and Chicago.

Read Josh Whitman's letter to I-Fund donors

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Official press release

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson has named Illinois alumnus Josh Whitman the university’s 14th permanent director of athletics, pending approval by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. In nearly six years as an athletics director at two universities, Whitman’s teams have earned four national titles and 24 top-five team finishes, plus 34 conference championships.

Whitman’s Illinois heritage made him an appealing candidate, Wilson said, “but that’s not the reason he stood out in this search. He impressed us all with his work ethic, his passion, his concern for the welfare of student-athletes and his commitment to diversity. He has a record of leaving programs under his leadership better and stronger than when he arrived.”

Wilson said both of Whitman’s previous stops saw outstanding achievements – on and off the athletic venues – matched with improvements in facilities, increased fundraising activity and strategic organizational changes that positioned his programs for successful futures.

“He understands the business of modern college athletics, but he hasn’t lost any of the sense of fun and joy that should be part of amateur sports,” Wilson said. “At Illinois we want to compete hard, act with integrity and give our student-athletes the kind of positive experiences that stay with them throughout their lives and careers. If you want to see what that looks like, you just have to look at the leadership and accomplishments of Josh Whitman.”

University of Illinois President Tim Killeen said he was impressed in his personal meeting with Whitman by his integrity, experience and vision for leading the Illinois athletics program. “Josh has excelled at every level – student and professional athlete, attorney and athletic administrator. I enthusiastically share the confidence of the chancellor and search advisory committee that his success will continue here at Urbana,” Killeen said. “Orange-and-blue is in his bloodstream, and he is committed to the U. of I. for the long run. He will take the Illini athletics program to great success, and he’ll have all my support.”

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany described the selection as an outstanding hire.  “Josh is well-respected, very bright, and as an alum, knows what it means to be a member of the Fighting Illini,” Delany said. “He will be a terrific addition to the university and the conference, and we look forward to working with him.”

The 37-year-old Whitman currently serves as director of athletics at Washington University in St. Louis, a nationally recognized NCAA Division III program with 19 varsity sports and approximately 500 student-athletes. During Whitman’s tenure, the program has posted seven top-five NCAA finishes, with a combined GPA of 3.35, and a graduation rate of 99 percent. Of the more than 450 Division III schools, Washington University is currently ranked No. 1 in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup following the conclusion of the fall season.

An eight-member search committee, chaired by professor Matt Wheeler and supported by the Korn Ferry search firm and university personnel, handled the search process.

“It is a dream come true for me to return to my alma mater as the next director of athletics,” Whitman said. “With strong leadership, a bold vision, daring integrity and an unparalleled commitment from a unified and active Illini Nation, together we can build an athletics program befitting our great institution.  I would like to thank the Board of Trustees, President Killeen, Chancellor Wilson and Illini everywhere for their trust and faith in me.  I will work tirelessly to achieve our goals.  The future is bright for the Illini.”

Whitman, a four-year starting tight end and two-time Academic All-American for Illinois, spent parts of four seasons in the National Football League, including stints with the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills.

He has two Illinois degrees, graduating with Bronze Tablet honors in 2001 while earning a bachelor’s degree in finance, and graduating from law school summa cum laude in 2008.

Before joining Washington University, Whitman served as the director of athletics at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Previously, he practiced law in Washington, D.C., with preeminent firm Covington & Burling LLP, serving clients that included Microsoft and the NFL. He also served as a judicial law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

During his time as a law student at Illinois, Whitman worked in the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics on several key initiatives, including endowment and naming-rights proposals and strategic planning for marketing and funding of the now-completed $121 million renovation of Memorial Stadium.

Whitman grew up in West Lafayette, Ind., and is married to Hope Hunt Whitman. He is a licensed attorney, a member of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and a member of the Sports Lawyers Association. He is expected to begin his tenure at Illinois March 21.

Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.

Illinois is hoping to catch a rising star but went to the Division III level to do it, a rarity for a power-five conference school.

Sources have confirmed several media reports -- first reported by Loren Tate of The News-Gazette -- that the university will announce Washington University (St. Louis) athletics director Josh Whitman as the program's 20th director of athletics in the next few days.

Whitman, 37, is a former Illinois football player who also graduated from the UI College of Law. Whitman has served as Wash U's AD for about two years.

He previously served as the athletics director at Division III Wisconsin-La Crosse. In his time at UW-LaCrosse, the Eagles won four national titles and 21 conference titles. Whitman increased the operating budget there, which helped Whitman renovate many of the facilities.

Prior to heading to La Crosse, Whitman was a practicing lawyer for the sports pracitce Cobington & Burling, which served as primary counsel to the NFL.

Whitman worked in the Illinois athletic department from 2005-08, serving as both assistant to the athletic director and coordinator of special projects.

Whitman played four seasons of professional football, serving stints with the Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, Buffalo Bills and NFL Europe's Frankfurt Galaxy. At Illinois, Whitman was a four-year starting tight end from 1997-2000 and also earned Bronze Tablet honors as a student, meaning he finished among the top three percent of his graduating class.

llinois dismissed athletic director Mike Thomas on Nov. 9 following a rocky tenure that included too few wins by his hires (just one NCAA Tournament appearance in men's basketball and one bowl game in football) and too many off-the-field embarrassments, including investigations into the football (for medical misconduct and abuse, which resulted in the firing of head football coach Tim Beckman) and women's basketball programs (for abuse and alleged racism, though the allegations by former players were deemed unfounded).

Quick facts on Josh Whitman

Age: 37

Hometown: West Lafayette, Ind.

Degrees: 

  • B.S., College of Business(Finance), University of Illinois, 2001
  • J.D., College of Law, University of Illinois, 2008

Job Experience

  • Director of Athletics, Washington University St. Louis (Aug. 2014 - present)
  • Director of Athletics, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (2010-2014)
  • Covington & Burling LLP
  • Law clerk, United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit
  • Assistant to the Athletic Director, University of Illinois (2007-08)
  • Coordinator of Special Projects, University of Illinois (2005-08)
  • Professional football player, NFL and NFL Europe (2001-2004)

Honors

  • Member, National Association of College Directors of Athletics
  • Four-year letterwinner, Illinois football
  • All-Big Ten football (2001)
  • Three-time Academic All-Big Ten
  • Two-time First Team Academic All-American
  • Bronze Tablet at University of Illinois (awarded to top-three percent of graduating class)

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