Jeremy Werner

Illini AD Josh Whitman discusses start of football season, next facilities upgrades, growing up Purdue and basketball expectations

Illinois director of athletics Josh Whitman joined Illini Inquirer publisher Jeremy Werner on the "Tay and J Show" on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the Illinois football facilities renovation and other topics. Here are some highlights.

Listen to the entire interview with Illini athletics director Josh Whitman

On if the renovation will have a bigger impact on day-to-day operations than game day

"That's the primary driver. Certainly, the impact for our fans will be profound as well. We're excited about that. If that weren't happening, we wouldn't be as comfortable with the project. Giving our fans that enhanced experience in the east and the south is key. But you're right, the need to provide our football program with facilities that are necessary to compete at that level is really what's the impetus for doing it now. We're excited about that aspect of it."

On his emotions of his first football game as athletics director

"It was powerful, and really this entire season has been powerful for me just the chance to be engaged with the team from this side of the aisle now. To be in the stadium for that first win, to be in that locker room for the first win. To be in the stadium September 10th and to see it full and to see the environment and recognize that here we are second game, full house, night game, national audience. It was a big-time atmosphere. We want to talk to our student-athletes, to our staff, to our fans about, 'Look, this is what's possible.' We're at Nebraska this weekend and looking the tradition that they have created there. The reality is that going back to some date in 1962, they didn't sell out. So to start a streak of 351 consecutive games, you know what they did? They sold out the first one. We have to start building something with that kind of long-term vision. Nobody back in 1962 would've said, 'Hey, we're going to sell out the next 350 games.' But you do, you have to start some place. So, that's what we're doing. We're starting and we're taking steps."

On a 1-3 start and how much winning this season matters for long-term

"Well, wins always matter, but certainly you're looking at process. You're looking at progress. You're watching the attitude and our culture within the program. Are we taking the steps we need to in order to build this thing to be sustainable? Because we've talked before, that's been our challenge. We've been to the top of the mountain before. We just don't stay. When we do this, our whole intent is to get to the top and build it in such a way that the foundation allows us to stay there. Every time we take the field, we expect to win. That's been a big part of my message with our fans, with our student-athletes. We've reached the point where we need to have that level of personal confidence that when we step out there and the ball gets kicked off, we have every intention of winning that game. When the game's over, win or lose, we also have to be realistic about where our program stands and what the steps are that we're taking, what we can take from each of those games to build on. I think that you're starting to see that. I thought we showed some really good things against North Carolina. We showed some challenging things. Western Michigan was not our best performance, but this past weekend I thought we showed some really positive steps. We were in that game. We had every reason to have a chance to win that one. I think going forward we will."

On what Purdue meant to him growing up in West Lafayette, Ind.

"That's an interest question. I certainly did grow up in the backyard of Purdue and was more of a Purdue basketball fan growing up in the Gene Keady heyday. They were winning a lot of Big Ten titles at the time. Even going back to Troy Mitchell and Everett Stephens and those guys. Purdue football, Mike Alstott was kind of at his peak right when I was paying the most attention. My high school quarterback, his dad was Jim Coletto, who was the head coach at Purdue (from 1991 to 1996), so I got to know the program pretty well. I spent a lot of time around those guys. I was offered a scholarship there early on. Just  at the time, I felt like I wanted a different experience. I wanted something that was a little bit more removed, perhaps from five miles from my home. There's always been something in me that's enjoyed doing things a little  bit different from what other people have done. Everybody I knew went to Purdue or to Indiana. I didn't know anybody who'd ever gone to Illinois. That was exciting to me. So, it was just a question of fit and comfort. I came here and never looked back.

"You grow up watching a team and you really go one of two ways. Either you think every minute of every day about playing for that team or it becomes so normal so it doesn't really feel like that big of a deal. For me, at that point in my life, going and playing at Purdue didn't feel like that big of a deal. Going to Illinois felt like an incredible deal."

On if basketball practice facility is next on his list of facilities upgrades

"As I've said several times, we've spent the last several months looking at that list, developing that list. There are a lot of things on it. It's no secret. Anybody who spends an hour walking around our facilities could probably guess what's next on that list. Certainly, a basketball practice space. The Ubben building has been tremendous. We were one of the first stand-alone practice facilities in the country. Whether we want to build new or renovate Ubben is an ongoing conversation. I would not say it's at the top of the list. I wouldn't say it's on the bottom of the list. I would say it's on the list. Certainly, we've invested substantially in basketball here over the last four years with the work we've done at the State Farm Center. I'm feeling a pretty strong need right now to do some things for our non-football, non-basketball student-athletes. We've had some creative ideas about what that might mean. But our physical plan is not where it needs to be. You've all heard me say that at different points in time. We're excited about the projects we've put on the list and continuing to try and prioritize those is an important piece of what we're doing.

"I will say that the other thing that is a bit of a variable is the fund-raising process. If we have a building or a project that's number three or number four on our list, but a donor comes in and wants to foot the bill for 40 percent of it, then all of a sudden that's going to jump up the list a little bit. There's a little  bit of variability there depending on our supporters and who's willing to step up at what point in times."

On progress he wants to see with basketball this season

"Certainly I'll never be someone who gets painted in a corner with a number or say, 'This is what's got to happen.' I think they've had an unbelievable summer. I think we can all agree with that. The recruiting has been fantastic. They've built these relationships over three, four years. We're now starting to see the fruits of their labor. They've just done a great job of putting together a strong vision for Illinois basketball and selling that vision to prospective student-athletes. I had the chance to get in the gym (Monday) and watch the first practice. They have an intensity and excitement about them that can be really encouraging for our fans. We're healthy, we're excited, and we're talented. I think there's a lot of upside to this basketball team this year. I think that we're going to come out and play well. I think we're going to be a program that people can be proud of. I have great confidence in Coach Groce and in our basketball program. I think our fans are going to see a really positive step forward this year, one that certainly will just continue to get built on with this year's recruiting class."

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