Josh Whitman did not waste any time in making himself comfortable as The University of Illinois Athletic Director. Whitman took care of the most compelling questions in the athletic department before noon of his first official day in the position.
He began with giving everyone wearing orange and blue in State College, Pennsylvania, today a big sigh of relief. The 13-17 Illini play their final regular season game tomorrow at Penn State, and a likely third-straight season without a bid to the NCAA Tournament has given many followers reason to doubt Groce’s future in Champaign. Whitman put all questions aside Saturday morning, announcing that he had decided Groce is the man for Illinois. An injury plagued team added to a wide recruiting opportunity after this season gave Whitman the confidence he needed in Groce to continue his time at Illinois.
Whitman’s moment to show he is not messing around at his alma mater came just a couple of hours later when the athletic department announced that head coach Bill Cubit and his son Ryan had been dismissed from the team. This news came as a shock to everyone in the football program, including the players themselves— many of which not happy finding out they’re coach had been fired via Twitter.
The new AD explained his reasoning for getting the news out before speaking with the team or anyone else.
“This is not ten years ago. Information travels faster than any of us could possibly understand,” Whitman said, “…As soon as [Cubit] left that office, people started to find out. By the time I left my office and got back to my own, we were already getting calls from the media. The only way that we could preserve the opportunity to tell the story in the way in which it needs to be told was to announce it immediately and bring the team together after the fact.”
Redshirt sophomore Mike Dudek was one of the players who showed his unhappiness with the manner in which he found out via Twitter.
“I was in the car driving home from a workout this morning. I was just on Twitter, scrolling through, and I was just like ‘Wow,’” Dudek said.
Before the news had officially been released, the players had been texted about a team meeting later in the afternoon. The text did not explicitly state the manner of the meeting.
“I thought we just going to all meet Mr. Whitman,” Dudek said, “But clearly I was wrong.”
Whitman met with the team at 2 o’clock where he discussed most of what the players had already found out but also what the plan is going forward. First up, spring practices have been pushed back.
When Whitman left the team meeting, players stuck around to discuss the matter with each other. According to Dudek, Justin Hardee and Joe Spencer were the loudest voice in the room. Spencer spoke to Cubit soon after the news had been released. As unfortunate as he recognized the situation to be, Spencer tried to relay as much positivity as possible to his teammates who will now face their third head coach in two seasons.
“As we move forward, it’s time for us to work and get moving forward,” Spencer said. “Whoever is the new head coach, we’ll welcome him with open arms and ready to work because the goal is here to win and we have the pieces to win so that anything else in unacceptable.”