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Ron Guenther’s retirment in his own words

Ron Guenther announced Monday morning that he will retire as the head of the Illinois athletic department after 19 years. Guenther, the longest-tenured athletic director in the Big Ten, will step down on June 30, the day his current contract expires.

Guenther’s legacy is a mixed bag. Under his direction, Illinois made drastic improvements to its facilities, including the $121 million Memorial Stadium Renaissance project, the Irwin Indoor Football Facility, the Ubben Basketball Practice Facility, Illinois Field, the UI Outdoor Track and Field and Soccer Stadium, the Atkins Tennis Center, the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex, the Demirjian Golf Facility, the Eichelberger Softball Field and the Irwin Football Complex. Guenther’s program has finished in the black for 17 straight seasons, has avoided NCAA investigators and performed well academically.

But an 85-125-2 football record during his tenure has lost him supporters as well as a failure to capitalize on a 2005 Final Four run in basketball. His contract extensions for football coach Ron Zook and women’s basketball coach Jolette Law also drew the ire of fans.

Guenther, who mostly shied from public appearances during his tenure, decided to step away from that spotlight.

He spoke with the media Monday afternoon on a teleconference.

Following is a truncated transcript of that discussion.

On making the decision …

“I think the answer is really in my gut. I thought this would be the time to make the change. We had a lot of new things happening. We got a new board of trustees, a new president and soon to have a chancellor, I felt that it was time to move on to different things.

“It’s actually bittersweet. I think there was a point where emotionally I was very convinced I was ready, but even this morning as I was coming up the steps, it’s five after six and I enjoy that time in the office by myself. I’m thinking, ‘I am going to do something else I just don’t know what it’s going to be.’ The age wasn’t the factor. It was really the timing and maybe a little bit a side of you that says, you know, ‘It’s time for somebody else to drive this.’ It’s been an emotional deal for me. I’d be kidding anybody to say anything different.

“I feel badly that Dr. (President Michael) Hogan’s only been with us for a year but he does have a lot on his plate. This decision here is really a campus decision and it would’ve been one less thing to be thinking about if I would have extended but his reaction was always what was best for me. I think even though he expressed the opinion (for me) to stay and continue, I think this is all going to work out.”

On whether or not he’ll remain involved in Assembly Hall renovation project …

“We’ve got an option that we can look at that. My background has been in development prior to getting directorship. I think there’s an option that we’re going to be looking at over the summer. Certainly, I can assure everybody the Assembly Hall project is finally on track.”

On his role in the search for his successor …

“We’ve got some internal candidates. We’ve got some highly qualified people. I’m obviously there as a resource if the committee wants to ask me some questions, but I’m not going to take the lead in naming names or providing names as my possible successor.”

On where he’s leaving the football program …

“I think that from a facilities standpoint … everything’s in place here for football to have success. …I feel really good about where we’re leaving football. It still comes down to winning games, but from the schedule to the facilities to the salary to the budget, they have everything they need there to have success.”

Reactions from Bruce Weber and Ron Zook on his retirement …

“I’m disappointed. They’re disappointed. But these are discussions I’ve had with both coaches during various times of their seasons, after the season. We talked about the possibility of me being gone. I think they feel good for me personally, but I think I will miss the relationship as much as they’ll miss the relationship.”

On Illini fans’ view of him …

“The fanbase doesn’t see all of that, and I get that. I get what they get. I think that we’ve made changes when we’ve needed to make changes for the right reasons. Sometimes it’s an injury, sometimes it’s an academic casualty, sometimes it’s an official’s call. That’s how close it is. It’s hard to win basketball games and football games at the level the fanbase wants day-in and day-out. The part that some of the fanbase doesn’t understand is our kids are coming here to get an education as well. We’ve obviously professionalized collegiate sports at the highest level but one of the things that needs to be noted is the guys I’ve supported have had very high standards of behavior and they’ve had really high standards of what they expect in the classroom. Then the third piece of that is we set a very high standard for winning and losing as well. I think they know that I get it. I know when coaches don’t have enough budget to get something done.”

For more reaction to Ron Guenther’s retirement, listen to the “Tay and J Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on 93.5, 95.3 ConnectFM and streaming online at http://www.myconnectfm.com.

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