Illini coaches: Whitman adds 'presence'

Illinois hired Josh Whitman a month ago. The new athletics director already has flipped the script at Illinois with the shocking, department-altering hire of Lovie Smith as football coach. Whitman now settles into the job to attack other issues, including off-the-court issues with men's basketball and needed facilities upgrades. But it's safe to say that Whitman has made quite an impression on not only Illini fans but Illini coaches working under him. Illini Inquirer caught up with four Illinois

Mike Small, Illini golf coach

"I think he adds presence. I think he adds decisiveness. I think he adds leadership. He's got a plan. With any good organization, you got your leader setting the table. We (as coaches) have to execute. I like the intensity and the focus he brings and the presence he brings. I think that's what every good leader has, whether he's a coach, an administrator or whatever you are. He's serious about this. He also understands sports, having played collegiate athletics. He understands you got to have fun while you're doing it. This isn't pro sports yet. It's not all about everything. He understands that. But he also wants to win. We all want to win. I'm excited about it. I'm excited about him being here."

Dan Hartleb, Illini baseball coach

"Josh has been -- I don't even know what to say other than impressive. He is such a great person. We got the instant 'wow' factor with the Lovie Smith hire. It's kind of energized everybody. A lot of people are excited about the future of our department and football. It just gave us all a shot in the arm. I'm just really excited about the progress we've made in just a short amount of time. Josh truly, truly cares about the department. He's extremely intelligent. I'm just excited. He's a good person and I know he cares about all the sports and cares about baseball. Again, I'm just looking forward to getting to know him better. It's just a bright future for the entire department."

Jim Heffernan, Illini wrestling coach

"I think for athletics in general, I think he's a guy who gets what it's like to be at Illinois. He wants to be at Illinois. He knows what the experience should be, knows what people who have worked in the athletic department for a number of years feel about the place. I think coming in having familiarity with the school, having trust on the school from what he's done as an athlete, what he's done academically, what he's done professionally, I think he'll really have trust of the university side which I think is a gigantic thing. Then I think as he gets his feet on the ground -- he's been pretty busy the last couple weeks obviously -- I think he's a great choice, and I think he'll be a very good leader for our department and a very good representative of what we as coaches and our student-athletes want, because he's been one of them and knows what we're expecting out of these guys. And I think from that standpoint, he was a perfect fit quite honestly."

Justin Spring, Illini men's gymnastics coach

"What a hire coming in first day on the job and just hiring Lovie Smith. That instantly brought I think a person, a man, a figurehead with credentials for the athletic department to immediately have faith in and belief in. You could see that with the media storm that took place at Bielfeldt when he had his first press conference. I think it immediately gave Josh in the eyes of the fans who were kind of wavering -- I don't want to call them fair-weather fans -- but our fan base has kind of been left in disbelief and cynical a little bit. It was like, 'All right! That's a move right there!' You know Josh isn't going anywhere. He's made it very outwardly known that this is a lifetime position for him. Josh and I have had a few minutes of face time only because he's been so busy. But the first couple days, he was like, 'I remember you.' I was like, 'Oh my god, what does that mean?' He's only five years older than me. He was getting his law degree -- I think a 4.0 (GPA), I might add -- here at Illinois while I was competing as an athlete. So he was kind of on campus while I was doing my thing.

"We just shot the breeze back and forth about how we both fell into our dream positions maybe a decade before you thought it was possible. That's pretty amazing. He's so excited to be here. He has a commanding presence. I think him and Lovie can command a room. It's great. That's great because I think alignment and unifying the Chicago fans, the Midwest fans and the Corn Belt fans or whatever, I think that's important to be able to do that. I think these guys can do that. I'm excited. I'm really excited about the next five or ten years or however long he's going to be a part of that."


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