Sitting down with new Illini AD Mike Thomas

Sitting down with new Illini AD Mike Thomas

Posted by Lindsey on Wed, 08/17/2011 - 22:27
As part of new Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas’ whirlwind Wednesday blitz of the school’s three power bases --- Chicago, St. Louis and Champaign-Urbana --- he eschewed the formal setup in “Illini Center” at 200 South Wacker Drive in order to have a less formal conversation with a few media types. Given the chance to expound for 40 minutes --- as opposed to his brief appearance at the lectern during his introductory news conference last week --- Thomas reinforced the impression he offered before: He’s sharp. He’s self-confident, but self-deprecating when need be. He’s neither too formal nor too casual. He tells a good story and stays on point. Here are some things we learned: 1. As an associate athletic director for Virginia a couple of decades ago, he used to play pickup basketball with NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long. Once, when playing defense against Long’s team, Thomas’ teammate didn’t call out a pick. Thomas slammed into Long --- then only a few years removed from the NFL --- and needed time to pick up his various body parts off the floor. 2. While he hasn’t been back to Macomb since earning his graduate degree from Western Illinois in 1986, Thomas has ties to Illinois. His wife, Jennifer, has family in the Chicago area. Her best friend from college lives in Peoria. Hopefully Illini fans will be OK with the fact Jennifer Thomas “was born and raised a Hawkeye.” Perhaps some fans will identify with this view: “She will tell you I’m not making fun of her,” said Thomas, who grew up in Colorado. “My wife thinks corn that’s higher than her head is prettier than a 14,000-foot mountain. That’s what my wife thinks.” 3. While Thomas talked plenty about his successful times with Brian Kelly at Cincinnati, he seems to have at least as good of a pulse on the basketball scene. According to his bio, he serves as the NCAA men’s basketball liaison to the Div. I Championship/Sports Management Cabinet and also serves on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Issues Committee. Oscar Robertson still has a front-row, center-court seat at Cincinnati’s home games and Thomas said he loved talking basketball with the Big O. “I think when I started there in 2005, I think Oscar was still going down to the YMCA and playing,” Thomas said. “Looking at his body, you can see why he was such a force. He’s got a big, strong body.” Robertson was 66 when Thomas was hired at Cincy. 4. Some of Thomas’ thoughts on the idea that NCAA schools should increase the value of their scholarships in order to help with incidental costs. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, for example, suggested a few weeks ago at the Big Ten media days that a $2-5K increase might be in order. “I get it. I’m not necessarily opposed to it. I’m kind of in a neutral position now. For me, it’s more about, ‘What’s that model going to look like?’ It’s not just about revenue sports. It’s not just about the sports that fund the rest of the department…what’s it going to look like for the tennis player? What’s it going to look like for your women’s sports? “I just don’t know how you do it any differently. I can tell you, without doing a lot of research on this, there’s probably some Title IX implications on the women’s side.” 5. I was curious to learn Thomas’ take on the emerging situation at Miami --- with former booster Nevin Shapiro’s unbelievable largesse with (and access to) the school’s football and basketball players --- coming on top of the Ohio State problems and the Reggie Bush problem, etc. “It’s the culture that you’ve got to establish,” he said. “And it’s got to permeate from myself to the coaches and staff and to our student-athletes. And I’ll tell you what: education, monitoring and enforcing --- that’s a daily task. It really is. And that doesn’t mean that you can’t do everything right and there might be a hiccup along the way, but let’s just hope it’s a mole and not a mountain. I feel fortunate where I’ve been, we’ve had clean records of compliance. And Illinois has done a great job and their compliance staff.” By the way, Thomas lists “runs a clean program” among the characteristics he seeks when he hires coaches. LW
Comments ()
We are now using Facebook comments to offer a more inclusive, social and constructive discussion. Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our or terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.