Illinois AD Josh Whitman Getting Contract Extension With Pay Raise 

In its next meeting on Nov. 16, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees will be voting on a contract extension and pay raise for athletics director Josh Whitman.

By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Football Writer/Analyst

November 2, 2023

(Cover photo courtesy Illinois Athletics)

CHAMPAIGN — Josh Whitman is set to receive a contract extension that could potentially see him be the athletics director at his alma mater for the next eight years.

The university announced on Thursday in a media release that the University of Illinois Board of Trustees will consider a three-year contract extension for Whitman making his deal at Illinois an eight-year contract slated to keep him in his current position until at least June 30, 2031.

The Illinois BOT will vote on the matter at its next meeting on Nov. 16 in Chicago. The announcement of Whitman’s extension being on the docket has come before the official agenda for the BOT meeting has been released to the public.

“Josh Whitman will be the third-longest serving athletic director in the Big Ten Conference by next summer,” Illinois chancellor Robert J. Jones stated in the media release. “His thoughtful and decisive leadership has been a critical stabilizing force in both the Big Ten and here at Illinois through one of the most tumultuous and challenging periods in the history of collegiate athletics. This new contract ensures that his voice and vision will continue to guide our athletic programs here at Illinois for many years to come.”

Whitman’s new annual salary will be $1.5 million, retroactive to July 1, which is a $525,000 raise from his current contract, which he signed in May 2022. Whitman had then agreed to a four-year contract extension that took the contract to 2028 and set him up to eventually be the university’s first athletics director with a seven-figure salary. Under the new terms of the contract, which will be voted on in two weeks, Whitman will continue to be eligible for a variety of bonuses, including performance clauses and retention bonuses should he elect to stay in his current position.. The first retention incentive will be payable in summer 2024, with four additional retention incentives spaced over the course of the new eight-year contract. The contract has the opportunity for two automatic one-year extensions, in summer 2024 and summer 2025, respectively, that could extend the agreement’s end date to June 30, 2033. Therefore, if Whitman is still in Champaign two years from now, the totality of the deal will be a 10-year contract.

“Today’s news is an endorsement of the important work that we have undertaken together over the past several years. Our many different stakeholders – student-athletes, coaches and staff, campus colleagues and students, alumni and donors, fans and ticketholders, corporate partners, community members, and others – have unified around the vision for what a successful, comprehensive, values-driven, and integrity-based athletics program can mean for an institution of higher education, even one with an existing reputation as robust as what we enjoy at the University of Illinois,” Whitman stated in a public letter on the Illinois athletics website. “Our shared journey has been far from linear, but the progress we have made is undeniable. Words can hardly express how thankful I am for the role that each of you has played.”

One new detail to this contract extension is Whitman’s buyout provision, which the media release states does provide the University of Illinois “significant protections for the University against Whitman’s departure”. Sports Illustrated investigative reporter Ross Dellenger reported this information first but IlliniGuys.com has been able to confirm that search firms and university search committees have recently had Whitman’s name on the candidate lists for recent athletics director openings at power programs across the country including Missouri and Washington.

Whitman played in 45 football games from 1997-2000 as a tight end, catching 52 career passes and seven touchdowns. While being a two-time first team Academic All-American, Whitman also earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors his senior season. He then spent parts of four seasons as a player in the National Football League, including stints with the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks, and Buffalo Bills. Prior to embarking on his career in athletics administration, Whitman practiced law in Washington, D.C., with Covington & Burling LLP, a firm with a preeminent sports practice that represents, among other clients, the National Football League. Whitman remains a licensed attorney and is a member of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and LEAD1 Association. He also served on the national board of directors for the Sports Lawyers Association from 2019-23.

Whitman was hired as athletics director in Feb. 2016 and has recently concluded a term as co-chair of Big Ten Administrator’s Council and continues to be involved in Big Ten and NCAA governance, including a recent appointment to the NCAA Division I Council. Whitman has made numerous head coaching hires during his tenure at Illinois including two football coaches (Lovie Smith and Bret Bielema), two women’s basketball coaches (Nancy Fehay and Shauna Green) and men’s basketball coach Brad Underwood.

“The part that’s been awesome for me is to come here to the University of Illinois and work with an athletic director whose passion for the University of Illinois is unprecedented. He played here. He’s got two degrees from here. He’s been an AD. It’s in his blood,” Bielema said Thursday in his local media session inside the Smith Family Football Complex.

Under Whitman’s leadership, Illinois athletics department has raised more than $321 million in support of an aggressive facilities plan that Whitman and his team developed and executed. The facility projects executed at Illinois include the Smith Family Football Center in 2019, the Ubben Basketball Complex in fall 2022, the acquisition of the former Stone Creek Golf Club in Urbana and the development and construction of Demirjian Park, the new home for Illinois soccer and track and field.

“At a moment when the college athletics landscape has never been more unsettled, with rampant change all around us in conference affiliation, student-athlete experience, fan engagement, and leadership, the University is embracing a strategy that allows us to look with a long lens. In a period of intense disruption, stability can be our advantage,” Whitman stated in his statement. “With consistent leadership in key administrative and coaching positions, we will use the surrounding uncertainty to our benefit – to innovate, push boundaries, and gain an edge by capitalizing on the relationships and time with which we have been entrusted.”

 

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