Help wanted: One Jim Phillips for monumental job at the University of Illinois

SHARE Help wanted: One Jim Phillips for monumental job at the University of Illinois
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Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips would be a coup for struggling Illinois. (Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media)

I can think of a thousand reasons why Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips wouldn’t want the same job at the University of Illinois.

The state is in the middle of a budget crisis. The school looks truly lost, with an interim chancellor, an interim athletic director and an interim football coach.

Champaign isn’t Evanston. Urbana doesn’t have Lake Michigan.

The school can’t get its football program right, and its basketball program has underachieved. Those are the two moneymaker sports for any large university, and for too long Illinois has had a mid-major approach to them in terms of its hires.

So, Jim Phillips leaving the comfort of Northwestern for the mess at Illinois? The guy would have to be crazy.

Theo Epstein crazy. Epstein won two World Series with the Red Sox and then decided to take a job with a franchise that hadn’t won a World Series in more than a century.

Illinois isn’t the Cubs, and Phillips hasn’t had Epstein’s success, but the attraction is the same: do what nobody has been able to do before. It’s really the only attraction.

I’m not saying Phillips should get in his car and drive down I-57, only that the challenge of it might appeal to him. It will take someone of his ability to turn this thing around.

I’d like to see Illinois get itself right for once. I’d like for the state’s flagship institution to restore some integrity after Tim Beckman’s unpleasant reign as the football coach. I’d like to see Illinois basketball be a player in the Big Ten.

Impossible? Remember, Northwestern football once was a long-running national joke. In my four years at NU, the team won a total of one game. One. So miracles do happen, if you have the right people in place.

I can think of a thousand reasons why Illinois would want Phillips. I can think of only one reason why he’d want Illinois. Looking for an epic challenge, Jim?


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