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The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
  • Illinois AD Ron Guenther: Bruce Weber’s job completely safe

  • CHAMPAIGN — Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther, like Illini basketball fans, expects to see his team playing in the NCAA tournament.

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  • CHAMPAIGN — Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther, like Illini basketball fans, expects to see his team playing in the NCAA tournament.
    Despite the possibility of missing the tournament for the third time in the past four years, Guenther wasn’t planning on any changes and didn’t expect to force coach Bruce Weber to make any changes after the season.
    “I feel very confident that Bruce can get this thing figured out,” Guenther said Wednesday afternoon. “He’s a wonderful coach and a great human being.
    “He will do the right thing at the end of the year.”
    This isn’t the same situation, Guenther said, that he faced in football roughly a year and half ago, when he had the option to make a change at the top or retain coach Ron Zook. At this point, Guenther implied, the basketball program needs no major overhaul despite sliding onto the NCAA bubble.
    In football, “it was whether I would retain or change,” Guenther said. “I’m not going to change over there. (But) you can’t come from Illinois and not expect to get into the tournament. We expect to get into that tournament. There’s no reason why we can’t compete at the highest level here.”
    Guenther wouldn’t force staff changes on Weber, he said, but the topic could come up during the yearly evaluation at the end of the season.
    “You can’t be loyal to a fault,” Guenther said. “If he thought there has to be a staff change to make this click, I believe Bruce would do it.”
    The issue with Weber’s program came in recruiting following the school’s only appearance in the NCAA title game in 2005. The Illini went after a different kind of recruit, Guenther said, and failed to land the kind of player that got the Illini to the Final Four.
    From Guenther’s point of view, the Illini finished second on several high-profile players, such as Sherron Collins and Julian Wright from Chicago, and the inability to sign Eric Gordon affected the recruiting strategy. The Illini are still trying to recover with a senior class “that probably hasn’t played to their potential,” Guenther said, and no scholarship juniors on the roster.
    The final evaluation of Weber’s program will come after the season, Guenther said.
    But Guenther acknowledged the disappointment.
    “I see it. I know it,” he said.
    Otherwise, Guenther hit several other topics:
    -- Football coach Ron Zook was given a $250,000 raise, moving his salary to $1.75 million per season. His contract wasn’t extended, and Zook’s deal runs for three more seasons. With eight home games next season and optimism following a rare bowl win by the program, Zook could work his way into a better deal.
    Page 2 of 2 - “He has a very good opportunity next year, then we can sit down and talk about an extension,” Guenther said.
    The assistant coaches were awarded extensions, rolling over their deals and giving them two more years under contract. They were also given raises across the board. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino’s salary went to $525,000 from $475,000, while defensive coordinator Vic Koenning’s pay was raised to $342,000 from $325,000.
    -- Guenther hinted that he might step down on July 1 when his contract is up. He could stay and work on the Assembly Hall renovation, but Guenther might want another challenge, such as working for Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. Illinois hasn’t yet hired a chancellor, and after 19 years on the job, Guenther might be headed in another direction.
    Guenther hoped to announce a decision on his future within three weeks because “I don’t want to lose any momentum either way.”
    “I can’t string this out much longer,” Guenther said. “Sometimes, it’s a time and the place to step aside. With a new board, president and chancellor, this might be the time, I don’t know.”
    -- Following a cooling off period after the renovation of Memorial Stadium, Guenther is ready to bring the Assembly Hall project back into the forefront. He already briefed university president Michael Hogan, and Guenther would like to get preliminary work completed, choose a design and land the funding to start work on the building by the spring or summer of 2012.
    The athletic department staff is experienced in such major projects that it could handle the work in a transition if Guenther chose to retire as athletic director, he said.
    John Supinie can be reached at 217-377-1977.
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