When I see the word “unexpurgated” anywhere, it makes me want to read the subject matter even more. I thought I’d throw it in the title to try to boost the audience for the synopsis of today’s 45-minute sitdown with Illinois’ athletic director. So consider yourselves part of a psychological experiment.
While Guenther wasn’t quite the definition of unexpurgated during his conference-room meet Wednesday afternoon with the old-school media, new-school media and every media in between -- he's too much of a wily veteran for that -- at least you got a sense of where he stands on various issues.
ITEM 1: Bruce Weber
If you think Bruce is going somewhere after this season -- no matter how much further the Illini hoops squad falls -- then clearly you haven’t been paying attention.
“I’m not going to change over there,” Guenther said, pointing toward the Ubben Building that houses the men’s basketball offices and practice facility. “But I think that you can’t come from Illinois and not expect to get into the (NCAA) Tournament. We expect to get into that Tournament. And this is a good basketball league, but there’s no reason we can’t compete at the highest level.”
Guenther said if Weber believes, at the close of this season, that some staff changes need to be made, then it will be Weber’s job to do that.
ITEM 2: Assembly Hall renovation
After putting the project on the shelf, Guenther intends to crank it up again. Or, at least, allow everyone to decide whether it needs to be cranked up again. “We’re in the process right now of starting the process of looking at it,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ve got a project or not.”
Guenther met with school President Michael Hogan and his administration on Friday to discuss the process. He’ll appear at the June board meeting to get everybody else up to speed.
“We would be going out and looking for an (Architecture) and (Engineering) firm and have a contest, basically,” Guenther said. “Where that we get some conceptual designs for the renovation, that we have a cost figure and we have a timeline. Once I have those three things in place, then I have a number now.”
Then Guenther and his staff hunt for private money to pay for the vast majority of the project. He said private money must fund all of it, but he also wants to move 1,400 students to the floor. That suggests he might lean on the school for some dough as well.
If Illinois raises the money, Guenther estimates the earliest they could start re-doing the Hall would be the late-spring or summer of 2012.
ITEM 3: Guenther’s future
His contract with the university expires July 1. While clearly he’s making plans for the athletic department beyond that date, he declined to say whether he’ll continue in his current post beyond that date.
There’s a side issue here because the school hasn’t hired a chancellor. Guenther said he’d offer a decision on his future in the next few weeks, but declined to hint at his direction. He could retire. He could stay on. He could slide over and be sort of a hired gun to work on the Assembly Hall project or whatever else might fit.
ITEM 4: Hurray for football!
In the wake of Illinois’ Texas Bowl triumph -- the program’s first postseason triumph since the 1999 season – Guenther authorized raises for everyone on the football staff, including strength man Lou Hernandez and director of football ops Adrian Melendez.
Ron Zook jumped from $1.5 million per year to $1.75 million, though he didn’t get any years added to his deal. His contract runs through the 2013 season.
Guenther doled out extra dollars to the offensive staff that set the school record for points per game (32.5 ppg) despite beginning the year with a redshirt freshman at quarterback. Every coach had a year added to his deal, so their contracts are through the 2012 season.
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino: Up $50K to $525K.
QB coach Brian Brohm: Up $18K to $190K.
RB coach DeAndre Smith: Up $45K to $180K.
OL coach Joe Gilbert: Up $15K to $215K.
TE coach Chip Long: Up $5,250 to $110,250.
Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning: Up $17K to $342K.
OLB coach Ron West: Up $10K to $200K
DL coach Keith Gilmore: Up $12K to $172K
Guenther also said, in so many words, Zook has the license to go out and find the best possible coach to replace Dan Disch -- who left to become Southern Mississippi’s defensive coordinator -- and he’ll fit it into the budget.
ITEM 5: Guenther’s philosophy on his coaches and firings
“It’s a great group of coaches,” he said. “I don’t release coaches. They release themselves based on their records. But I would put the character of our people up against anybody in the country.”