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updated: 5/16/2011 10:39 PM

How does AD Guenther's retirement affect Zook, Weber?

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  • Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther, here talking with the media in Champaign before the 2010 Illini football season, says he will retire when his contract expires on June 30.

      Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther, here talking with the media in Champaign before the 2010 Illini football season, says he will retire when his contract expires on June 30.
    Associated Press/The News-Gazette

 

In legal terms, Ron Zook and Bruce Weber own contracts that extend beyond the 2011-12 school year.

In realistic terms, their job security suddenly doesn't extend beyond December (for Zook) and March (for Weber).

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That's how quickly things changed Monday when Ron Guenther revealed he's ending his 19-year tenure as Illinois' athletic director when his contract expires on June 30.

"As a coach, you always worry about who's your boss and who hired you," Weber said while attending Big Ten meetings at the Palmer House. "It's a little bit of an uneasy feeling, whether it's me or any of the other coaches or any of the people in the athletic department."

Guenther said he had the chance to sign a two-year extension, but decided against it after multiple meetings with interim Chancellor Robert Easter and one meeting with first-year President Michael Hogan.

"The answer really, in my gut, I felt this was the time to make the change," Guenther said. "We have a lot of new things happening. We have a new board of trustees. We have the president and soon to have a chancellor. I felt it was time to move on to different things."

As Weber said, Guenther's decision affects many more people than Zook and Weber.

But they run the programs that the vast majority of Illini fans care about...and a vocal portion of those fans have greeted Zook's and Weber's recent seasons with disdain.

Not only that, those fans tend to believe Guenther enabled them and hope the next AD won't feel the same sense of loyalty.

It's certainly fair to characterize the 65-year-old Guenther, an Illinois alum who earned the football team's MVP award in 1966 as an undersized linemen, as one of the most patient and loyal ADs in the business.

With his coaching background (he and his brother, Hank, coached Div. III North Central College's football team from 1975-78), Guenther had sympathy for a coach's plight.

When it was a tossup to retain a coach, he always chose to stay the course.

Would most ADs have cut loose Zook when he followed up the Rose Bowl run with 5-7 and 3-9 seasons? Yes.

Would many ADs have resisted the temptation to replace Weber during the 2007-2010 stretch when Illini suffered two first-round NCAA Tournament losses and missed the tourney the other two years? No.

"He was a coach's AD," Weber said. "He was very supportive, but he left you alone. When you needed help, he helped. I'm sure it's Ron's hope and everybody's hope we get somebody as passionate about Illinois."

Guenther indicated he might help raise funds for the Assembly Hall renovation that's in the process of finding a construction manager.

"I am going to do something else," Guenther said. "I don't know what."

Perhaps e'll maintain a power broker's role within college sports. That's how much his peers respect him.

"He's a mentor of everybody that's in that room," said Michigan State AD Mark Hollis. "He's somebody, as a competitor, you can still call and share things with, knowing it's going to remain confidential and, at the same time, he's going to help you."

"He transformed the U of I to unprecedented success," said Northwestern's Jim Phillips, a 1990 Illinois graduate. "He's one of the very best ADs in the country. It's a big loss for the Big Ten."

• Lindsey Willhite will have more on Guenther's decision and the future for Illini athletics later today and on his Joe Sports blog at dailyherald.com.

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