Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson has named Illinois alumnus Josh Whitman the university’s 14th permanent director of athletics, pending approval by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. In nearly six years as an athletic director at two universities, Whitman’s teams have earned four national titles and 24 top-five team finishes, plus 34 conference championships.
Whitman’s Illinois heritage made him an appealing candidate, Wilson said, “but that’s not the reason he stood out in this search. He impressed us all with his work ethic, his passion, his concern for the welfare of student-athletes and his commitment to diversity. He has a record of leaving programs under his leadership better and stronger than when he arrived.”
Wilson said both of Whitman’s previous stops saw outstanding achievements – on and off the athletic venues – matched with improvements in facilities, increased fundraising activity and strategic organizational changes that positioned his programs for successful futures.
“He understands the complexities of modern college athletics, but he hasn’t lost any of the sense of fun and joy that should be part of amateur sports,” Wilson said. “At Illinois we want to compete hard, act with integrity and give our student-athletes the kind of positive experiences that stay with them throughout their lives and careers. If you want to see what that looks like, you just have to look at the leadership and accomplishments of Josh Whitman.”
University of Illinois President Tim Killeen said he was impressed in his personal meeting with Whitman by his integrity, experience and vision for leading the Illinois athletics program. “Josh has excelled at every level – student and professional athlete, attorney and athletic administrator. I enthusiastically share the confidence of the chancellor and search advisory committee that his success will continue here at Urbana,” Killeen said. “Orange-and-blue is in his bloodstream, and he is committed to the U. of I. for the long run. He will take the Illini athletics program to great success, and he’ll have all my support.”
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany described the selection as an outstanding hire. “Josh is well-respected, very bright, and as an alum, knows what it means to be a member of the Fighting Illini,” Delany said. “He will be a terrific addition to the university and the conference, and we look forward to working with him.”
The 37-year-old Whitman currently serves as director of athletics at Washington University in St. Louis, a nationally recognized NCAA Division III program with 19 varsity sports and approximately 500 student-athletes. During Whitman’s tenure, the program has posted seven top-five NCAA finishes, with a combined GPA of 3.35, and a graduation rate of 99 percent. Of the more than 450 Division III schools, Washington University is currently ranked No. 1 in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup following the conclusion of the fall season.
An eight-member search committee, chaired by professor Matt Wheeler and supported by the Korn Ferry search firm and university personnel, handled the search process.
“It is a dream come true for me to return to my alma mater as the next director of athletics,” Whitman said. “With strong leadership, a bold vision, utmost integrity and an unparalleled commitment from a unified and active Illini Nation, together we can build an athletics program befitting our great institution. I would like to thank the Board of Trustees, President Killeen, Chancellor Wilson and Illini everywhere for their trust and faith in me. I will work tirelessly to achieve our goals. The future is bright for the Illini.”
Whitman, a four-year starting tight end and two-time Academic All-American for Illinois, spent parts of four seasons in the National Football League, including stints with the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills.
He has two Illinois degrees, graduating with Bronze Tablet honors in 2001 while earning a bachelor’s degree in finance, and graduating from law school summa cum laude in 2008.
Before joining Washington University, Whitman served as the director of athletics at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Previously, he practiced law in Washington, D.C., with preeminent firm Covington & Burling LLP, serving clients that included Microsoft and the NFL. He also served as a judicial law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
During his time as a law student at Illinois, Whitman worked in the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics on several key initiatives, including endowment and naming-rights proposals and strategic planning for marketing and funding of the now-completed $121 million renovation of Memorial Stadium.
Whitman grew up in West Lafayette, Ind., and is married to Hope Hunt Whitman. He is a licensed attorney, a member of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and a member of the Sports Lawyers Association. He is expected to begin his tenure at Illinois March 8.