Home > Illini, Illinois basketball > Stephen Bardo: Illinois run “like the University of East Central Illinois”

Stephen Bardo: Illinois run “like the University of East Central Illinois”

Former Illinois basketball player Stephen Bardo said during a radio interview Wednesday that the university should hire an athletic director that prioritizes widening the influence of Illini athletics across the state.

Bardo, a member of the Flyin’ Illini 1989 Final Four team and a college basketball analyst for ESPN, said outgoing athletic director Ron Guenther “had a tremendous run” over his 19 years as athletic director but that the athletic department had a narrow scope during his tenure.

“This is no slight to Ron Guenther, but lately the program’s been run like the University of East Central Illinois,” Bardo said on the ‘Tay and J Show’ on 93.5/95.3 ConnectFM. “It’s the University of Illinois. It represents people in Cairo, Illinois; Freeport to Quincy on the west and Champaign and Danville on the east and everything in between. The brand got a little stale. I don’t think it was run quite like the flagship school of the state.

“I think Ron had his strengths, but I think one of the weaknesses is that our brand has gotten stale. I think we need to be more inclusive with who we get in the program and we need to have Chicago be prominent once again with Illinois. We’ve lost a little bit of luster in Chicago with our brand and the athletic department. Now, we need to re-focus on getting Chicago excited again about Illinois athletics.”

Big Ten and in-state foe Northwestern has prioritized Chicago in its marketing efforts with the Evanston school proclaiming itself “Chicago’s Big Ten school” despite sporting a significantly smaller alumni base in the Chicago metropolitan area than Illinois.

“(Northwestern athletic director) Jim Phillips, you can’t knock him,” said Bardo, who played at Illinois when Phillips was a team manager for then-coach Lou Henson. “That’s a coup for Jim Phillips to be able to pull that marketing off because he jumped at it first. Competition is good, and Illinois needs to step it up.”

Guenther will retire after his current contract expires on June 30. The university initially planned to hire a replacement by July 1, but university president Michael Hogan told The News-Gazette that the hiring could be pushed back a month to allow a newly-hired chancellor to have input on the decision.

Bardo said Phillips would be “an excellent choice” for Illinois because he “bleeds orange and blue.”

Asked half-jokingly if he’d entertain becoming the next Illinois athletic director, Bardo gave a seemingly serious response.

“If they offered the job, I’d definitely listen,” Bardo said. “Anyone that loves the university and has as much passion for it as I do, they would listen to it. I would definitely listen, and I have my own ideas about what needs to be done.”

Listen to the entire interview with Bardo here.

Follow Jeremy Werner on Twitter @WernerConnectFM.

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