Will Thomas Hold Beckman To Zook’s Standards?

mike-thomas-624x416Today’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) For recent Illinois football coaches, the third time has been the charm.

In 1999, after he posted a 2-14 Big Ten record during his first two seasons, Ron Turner broke through in Year 3 by reaching the MicronPC.com Bowl. In 2007, after he posted a 1-15 conference record during his first two seasons, Ron Zook broke through in Year 3 by reaching the Rose Bowl. And now in 2014, after posting a 1-15 Big Ten record during his first two seasons, Tim Beckman has his own opportunity to break through in Year 3 by reaching a bowl game.

But if Beckman does achieve six wins and qualifies for the postseason with a victory at Northwestern on Saturday, will it qualify as a breakthrough?

Or will it instead be considered a breakdown?

That’s what Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas must weigh this week as he wades into a tricky situation regarding his handpicked football coach that’s completely of his own making.

If Beckman loses on Saturday in Evanston, the decision about his future should be a pretty easy one for Thomas. After all, firing a coach with a 3-21 Big Ten record in three seasons who has clearly lost the support and interest of his program’s fan base is a logical call.

However, if Beckman goes out and wins against the Wildcats, then his future gets considerably more complicated, along with Thomas’ job.

It’s difficult, after all, to dismiss a coach headed to a bowl game. Although, three years ago, Thomas did just that when he ousted Ron Zook following a 6-6 regular season that had his team bound for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

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Derrick Rose Is The Sum Of All Our Fears

Chicago Bulls v Golden State WarriorsToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) He’s questionable for tonight’s game in Utah. He’s already sat out the last four and eight of 13 overall. And so far this season, he’s been able to finish a grand total of three contests.

He, of course, is none other than Derrick Rose.

And he’s Chicago’s headache. As well as its knee ache, its ankle ache, its hamstring ache and whatever ache comes next.

Here in the Windy City, Rose isn’t our first injury-plagued superstar, but the Bulls’ part-time point guard may indeed be unlike any of those who have come before him – because, as it turns out, he’s all of them balled into one.

In fact, you could actually call Rose the “Sum of All Our Fears,” because I’m not sure there’s been a more disappointing Chicago athlete than him – except maybe Kerry Wood. And I’m not sure there’s been a more frustrating Chicago athlete than him – except maybe Mark Prior. And, I’m also not sure there’s been a more heartbreaking Chicago athlete than him – except maybe Gale Sayers.

Since 2011, we’ve watched Rose’s career devolve from the heights of an NBA Most Valuable Player award into the current slog that it is following two major knee surgeries and an array of lesser injuries, including the strained hamstring and pair of sprained ankles that have hampered him this season.

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DePaul arena needs to take its ball and head home

DePaulFrom the Saturday, Nov. 22, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky


On the basketball court, DePaul’s scores may add up, but when it comes to the Blue Demons’ proposed hoops arena near McCormick Place, the numbers sure don’t. And with taxpayers on the hook, that’s a problem.

In May 2013, when the 10,000-seat venue planned for a site in Chicago’s South Loop was announced, the estimated cost was about $140 million with the publicly funded Metropolitan Pier and Expansion Authority (McPier) and private-school DePaul slated to pay $70 million apiece.

This past Tuesday, however, Crain’s Chicago Business reported that due to the arena’s partially subterranean design, that price tag has now jumped as high as $250 million, 75 percent more than originally projected.

McPier spokeswoman Mary Kay Marquisos told Crain’s on Wednesday that it won’t cost that much, saying, “We’re confident that the proposal that will be presented to the (McPier) board next Tuesday will be within the budgetary parameters established for the project and well within the spirit of the original design.”

We’ll see exactly what that means. But I’d say it’s almost a certainty that the arena’s ultimate cost will significantly exceed $140 million. And if it does, overruns are likely to be covered by McPier – or, in other words, by you the taxpayer.

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Illini Have The Talent, Now Need The Consistency

GroceToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) On Sunday night, after his Illinois basketball team blew the doors off Coppin State in a 114-56 romp at State Farm Center, coach John Groce said that he knew which version of his Illini would show up for the game.

Even if the rest of us didn’t.

“I woke up this morning and I told my wife, ‘They’re going to play today,’ ” Groce told reporters. “They played.”

With a record-tying 15 three-pointers helping to spark runs of 16-0, 14-0, 15-0 and 12-0, they certainly did. And by doing so, the Illini looked like the polar opposite of the squad that just two days earlier had struggled throughout a shaky 80-71 victory over Georgia Southern in the season opener.

Now, as for who the Illini truly are this season, well, that probably falls somewhere in between these two yin-yang performances. It’s too early for us to really tell.

But this much we do know for sure: If Groce is to meet expectations in his third year and truly cement himself as the guy to elevate the Illinois progam, then Jekyll and Hyde are going to have to stop suiting up for his Illini.

Because they’ve been in the lineup way too often the past two years.

Continue reading at CBSChicago.com

The driving Force behind George Lucas’ lakefront Museum

LucasFrom the Saturday, Nov. 17, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky


As the saying goes in Iowa, “If you build it, they will come.”

But if you don’t in Chicago, will they still?

As the creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, George Lucas had nothing to do with that famous line from “Field of Dreams.” But the movie mogul’s museum of dreams along Chicago’s lakefront has everything to do with the subsequent question.

Last week, plans were unveiled for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which is slated for a controversial 17-acre parcel of land between Soldier Field and McCormick Place that currently is home to surface parking lots. The museum’s initial design by Chinese architect Ma Yansong was highly disappointing as it looked like a futuristic man-made mountain that was plucked from the set of one of Lucas’ sci-fi flicks.

The plans were widely panned by both architecture critics and the public – and for good reason. After all, Chicago already has one space-age mistake along its lakefront with Soldier Field’s UFO-dropped-inside-the-Parthenon look. It hardly needs another right next door. But while Yansong’s design needs major work, I still believe that the Lucas Museum can be a positive for Chicago, and that its planned location along the lakefront makes it all the better.

Others, however, disagree. This week, the Friends of the Park, a Chicago group dedicated to stopping any private development east of Lake Shore Drive, announced that it is filing a federal lawsuit to block the museum’s construction. Previously, the group stated that it prefers to instead see the lots on the proposed museum site converted into parkland.

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Where Veterans Day is every day in Chicago

From the Saturday, Nov. 8, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

PritzkerBy Dave Wischnowsky


If you want to find world-class art in the city of Chicago, you know you can walk inside the Art Institute and be exposed to a universe of it. If it’s natural history that you’re hungry to explore, well, naturally you’d head to the Field Museum.

If delving into the science of everything is instead your desire, then you’ll deduce that the Museum of Science and Industry would be your logical destination. And if it’s Windy City itself that has you curious, then it only makes sense to blow on through the Chicago History Museum.

But what if you want to find the history of America’s military?

Well, as we approach Veterans Day on Tuesday and honor our those who have served, there is a place in Chicago that’s dedicated every day to veterans both living and passed – and is also something of a hidden gem among the city’s diverse museum community.

Established in 2003 by Col. J.N. Pritzker of Chicago’s billionaire family, the Pritzker Military Museum & Library is located right in the thick of things in Chicago’s Loop across from Millennium Park. But perched above street level on the second and third floors of the historic Monroe Building at 104 S. Michigan Ave., it’s also quite easy to miss.

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For Cubs, Acquiring Cole Hamels Is A Loaded Issue

HamelsToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) The Chicago Cubs are loaded.

They’re loaded with cash after years of penny-pinching and with all those gaudy outfield ads on the way. They’re loaded with young talent, both on the big league roster or coming soon. And now, they’re both locked and loaded for free agency with new manager Joe Maddon ready to help lure others into the Wrigleyville fold.

But how exactly the Cubs plan to spend their riches this offseason is also a loaded issue – and Theo Epstein and Co. need to be careful with how they handle it.

Earlier this week, news broke that the Cubs reportedly have an interest in Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels, who they claimed on revocable waivers in early August before Philadelphia pulled him back following brief trade talks between the teams.

At 30 years old with a career record of 108-83 to go along with a 3.27 ERA, Hamels is an intriguing option for the Cubs, who are in serious need of front-line starting pitching. But is he their best option too?

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The master of the Midway

From the Fall/Winter 2014 issue of the Kellogg School of Management Alumni Magazine …

ted_phillipsBy Dave Wischnowsky

When he took a job at the accounting firm Ernst & Whinney in 1979, Ted Phillips ’89 had no idea he would one day end up with a career in the National Football League.

“I didn’t have a vision that I’d get into pro sports,” Phillips said. “I thought I’d end up as a partner at a public accounting firm.”

Then life called an audible. After two years as the firm’s tax client, the Bears hired Phillips in 1983 as controller. Over the next 16 years, Phillips worked his way up from director of finance to vice president of operations. He made history in 1999 when he was named the first Chicago Bears president and CEO who was not a member of the Halas and McCaskey clan — the family that has owned the NFL franchise for 94 years.

“It was an overwhelming feeling,” Phillips said. “I still look at every day as a blessing to have that unbelievable trust put in me. It’s very humbling.”

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In Chicago, the holidays are coming on strong

CATW_GrandTree_2011_608From the Saturday, Nov. 1, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky


These days, once Labor Day hits, the holidays never really stop.

As soon as you pack up your picnic gear and bid summer its unofficial adieu, the Halloween costumes begin popping up in stores. And now that Halloween is over and your sugar coma has set in, Thanksgiving is on the mind – although Christmas keeps finding new ways to leapfrog it.

And no place has more holiday stuffing this month than Chicago, as Thanksgiving and Christmas duke it out for November supremacy while even Halloween isn’t quite ready to leave the ring.

Here’s how you can enjoy holiday revelry this month in the Windy City.

Vodou at Field Museum

All Hallow’s Eve may have passed, but at the Field Museum, the spookiness has just begun.

Through April 26, the museum at 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr. is hosting a new special exhibition called “Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti,” which looks beyond the voodoo stereotypes of zombies, evils spells and dolls stuck with pins to examine “a vital spiritual and social force in the daily life of Haiti.” It’s all still pretty creepy though, if you ask me.

For more information, visit fieldmuseum.org.

Christmas Around the World

Christmas doesn’t arrive until Dec. 25, you say?

Well, that’s not the case as the Museum of Science & Industry (5700 S. Lake Shore Dr.), where it commences on Nov. 13 with the debut of “Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light,” a holiday spectacle that dates back to 1942 when a singe decorated tree was dedicated to the Allies of World War II.

This year, the museum’s 45-foot Grand Tree will again take center stage in the Rotunda, surrounded by more than 50 smaller trees decorated to represent Chicago’s varied ethnic communities. The celebration runs through Jan. 4.

For more information, visit msichciago.org.

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Don’t Weep For Rick Renteria

RenteriaToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Winning a franchise’s first World Series title in more than a century is some tough business.

And so is being a Major League Baseball manager.

Rick Renteria learned a harsh lesson on both counts this afternoon when the Chicago Cubs finally confirmed the worst-kept secret in baseball by officially firing their manager after just one 73-89 season, during which he led the team to seven more wins than a year prior and did nothing wrong except not be Joe Maddon.

As team Cubs president Theo Epstein explained in a difficult-but-classy statement released by the franchise: “Rick deserved to come back for another season as Cubs manager, and we said as much when we announced that he would be returning in 2015.

We met with Rick two weeks ago for a long end-of-season evaluation and discussed plans for next season. We praised Rick to the media and to our season-ticket holders. Those actions were made in good faith.

“Last Thursday, we learned that Joe Maddon – who may be as well suited as anyone in the industry to manage the challenges that lie ahead of us – had become a free agent.”
And the moment that the superstar skipper of the Tampa Bay Rays entered the job market, it spelled the end of Renteria’s ever-so-brief tenure on the dugout bench at Wrigley Field.

Continue reading at CBSChicago.com