Committee formed to find new U of Illinois athletic director

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — An eight-member committee has started the search for a new University of Illinois athletic director, a process that will last at least a month, university officials said Friday.

The university is looking for a replacement for Mike Thomas, who was fired in November after a series of complaints from athletes about their treatment by coaches. The job posting on the university web site says the search period will run through at least Jan. 4, which means the soonest a new athletic director would be introduced is Jan. 5, university spokeswoman Robin Kaler said.

The university could also still hire an outside search firm to help with the process of filling the top position in one of the university’s most visible programs.

“I’ve described the athletic program as the front porch of this magnificent institution of higher education, meaning that it’s a setting where a variety of people engage with the university,” interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson said in a news release. “With that in mind, we’re looking for an athletic director with the vision and the skills to enhance the elements that are strong already, to rebuild where needed, and to restore the athletics program to a position of pride for Illini Nation across the board.”

Interim athletic director Paul Kowalczyk said Friday he will not seek the permanent position.

Thomas was fired after an investigation by a university-hired law firm found football coach Tim Beckman has interfered in medical decisions and pressured players to play hurt, accusations Beckman has denied. Beckman was fired in August, just before the football season began.

The school also faces a lawsuit by seven former women’s basketball players accusing coach Matt Bollant and some staff members of creating a racially hostile environment on the team. Separate investigations by law firms hired by the university found no wrongdoing by Bollant.

The committee includes soccer coach Janet Rayfield. A former soccer player has sued the university, Thomas and Rayfield, alleging she was improperly cleared to play after concussions.

The committee also includes animal sciences professor Matt Wheeler; softball player Nicole Evans; Mike Bass, a university administration employee and former Illinois football player; associate athletic director Keiko Price; associate athletic director Howard Milton; attorney and Illinois graduate Richard Stockton; and Sixth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Dan Flannell, another graduate of the university.

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