Now that the University of Minnesota's AD search has officially begun -- with the search committee being formed, and the process for hiring the search firm under way -- it's instructive to look at the recently completed AD search at Illinois.
Illinois hired 37-year-old Josh Whitman to be its new AD last week, completing a rocky three-month process. Whitman is a former Illini tight end who earned his law degree at Illinois before serving as the AD for two Division-III departments, UW-La Crosse and Washington University in St. Louis.
Back story: The Illinois situation was a mess. The school has an interim chancellor, Barbara Wilson, and there had been an interim AD, Paul Kowalczyk, who took over in early November, after former AD Mike Thomas was fired.
Thomas fired football coach Tim Beckman last August, replacing him with interim coach Bill Cubit. The school removed Cubit's interim tag in late November, giving him a two-year contract. So Whitman inherits Cubit and men's basketball coach John Groce, whose team will likely miss the NCAA tournament for a third straight season.
Search process: On Dec. 4, Illinois formed an eight-person search committee. The school quickly ran into issues, operating without a search firm. According to the Chicago Tribune, "Two potential candidates who are sitting athletic directors were contacted through their university email addresses, sources said, which is against the typical protocol of hiring searches and could jeopardize an AD's current position."
On Dec. 16, Illinois hired a search firm, Los Angeles-based Korn Ferry, paying a consulting fee of $140,000.
Interviews: According to the Chicago Tribune, "Illinois tried to entice Colorado AD Rick George and Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley, but both declined, according to sources. George, a former Illinois football player, stated early in the process that he was content at Colorado. Northern Illinois AD Sean Frazier declined to move forward in the process after an initial interview, sources said. Illinois also interviewed Eastern Illinois AD Tom Michael, Central Michigan AD Dave Heeke and Maryland deputy AD Kelly Mehrtens."
Worth noting: The University of Minnesota plans to hire a search firm and name a roughly 10-member search committee by early March, with AD finalists announced by late spring.
On Feb. 11, the day before Minnesota officially began its search, the school's vice president for human resources, Kathryn Brown, made several recommendations before the Regents audit committee. President Eric Kaler said, "She’s recommending pretty strongly using a search firm for a couple reasons. One, is we don’t want to make a misstep. You look at what happened at Illinois, for instance, they started thinking they didn’t need a search firm, they got bogged down. I don’t want to lose that time, number one. Number two is it does bring a source of other candidates that we might not know about, and a bigger pool’s a better pool. And it also brings, frankly, some structure and some capacity to just get the work done and having those extra hands is helpful."