The WISCH LIST
By Dave Wischnowsky
New AD dazzles in dizzying week for Illini Lovie Smith is the head football coach of not a pro team, but the University of Illinois. The thrifty school has ponied up $21 million for Smith’s six-year contract and committed another whopping $24 million for his assistants, who he’s stealing from NCAA powers and the NFL. And Illini football has gone from irrelevancy to the lips of talking heads nationwide.
Up is down. Down is up. Cats and dogs are living together.
Just a week ago, no one could have imagined that former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith would be taking the reins of the Illini football program.Yes, it’s been quite the dizzying week for the long-downtrodden denizens of Illini Nation, with a Twitter follower telling me on Monday, “I feel like I went to bed in Champaign, and I woke up in the SEC.”
With statements like that, it’s clear that this is not your father’s Illinois. No, this week’s turn of events is the sign of something completely different and incredibly exciting for Fighting Illini fans stunned to the see their major-conference school finally acting like a big-time program.
And all of that’s because Josh Whitman is not your father’s Illinois athletic director. Rather, the 37-year-old former Illini football player and Academic All-American is looking like an AD built for the 21st century.
Heck, maybe even the 22nd one.
Whitman admittedly wasn’t my first choice to take over Illinois’ messy athletic department, but he’s looking like he’s exactly what I did want — the right choice, as for years I’ve argued that the only thing keeping Illinois so far down in the dumps was having the wrong man overseeing its sports programs.