Fighting Illini Icon Ron Guenther Retires After 19 Years as Athletics Director
May 16, 2011
University of Illinois Director of Athletics Ron Guenther announced today his retirement upon the completion of his contract on June 30. The longest-tenured athletics director in the Big Ten, Guenther leaves the position after 19 highly successful years in which Fighting Illini teams captured 34 Big Ten Championships, made a men's basketball Final Four appearance and made six football bowl appearances. He also made an impression nationally as a member of the BCS Football Committee since its inception, as a member of the Bowl Certification Committee for seven years and as a member of the NCAA Championships Cabinet.
"After giving considerable thought I have made the decision not to extend my contract as Athletic Director and will retire on July 1, 2011," Guenther said. "For the last several months, I have been working with Chancellor Easter and administration on a succession plan for my position. A search committee is being formed and will begin work immediately to find my successor. I am confident an outstanding leader can be in place by mid-to-late summer.
"The last 19 years have gone extremely fast and a decision to retire has been very difficult. I personally want to thank all the members of the DIA as well as our colleagues in the academic community for their support. I have been fortunate to work with an extremely talented and loyal group. I will always be indebted. Additionally, the Illinois fan base is the best in the nation. I've always said we are fortunate to have individuals who have great passion and loyalty for the University of Illinois."
In fact, few in the history of the UI leave a legacy as long and deep as Guenther. Under his tenure, the UI made unprecedented strides in facilities, with the $121 million Memorial Stadium Renaissance project becoming the biggest construction project in the history of the institution. Other major facilities completed while Guenther was athletics director includes the Irwin Indoor Football Facility, the Ubben Basketball Practice Facility, the Irwin Academic Center, Illinois Field for baseball, the UI Outdoor Track and Field and Soccer Stadium, the Atkins Tennis Center, the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex, the Demirjian Golf Facility, Eichelberger Softball Field and the Irwin Football Complex, housing coaches offices, locker rooms, sports medicine, strength and conditioning facilities and meeting rooms for Illini football.
Long considered one of the nation's top athletics fundraisers, Guenther has been instrumental in soliciting gift commitments totaling more than $300 million toward capital improvements at Illinois during the last 19 years. Endowment fundraising under Guenther's leadership has gone from $2 million invested to more than $40 million in 2011, with an additional $40 million pledged. In the same fashion, the annual fund has grown from $2.4 million to nearly $8 million this year. As a member of the UI Library Brilliant Futures Campaign steering committee, he initiated a $1 million gift from the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics to the campaign.
As the Director of Athletics, Guenther demanded a culture of unbending integrity. The first item on the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics Mission Statement is just that - Integrity. He also stressed fiscal responsibility, with the DIA finishing in the black the final 17 years of his tenure. Guenther was named the NACDA/Continental Airlines Central Region Athletic Director of the Year in 2001.
"During his tenure as athletic director, Ron Guenther has transformed Illinois athletics to a perennial Top 20 program that is known for its integrity," said interim Vice President and Chancellor Bob Easter. "Under Ron's leadership, our athletic facilities have become state-of-the-art and our programs to support student-athletes as scholars have become second to none. His achievements are world-class in every area - from a national champion runner-up basketball finish in 2005 to a 'Program of Excellence' award for the CHAMPS/Life Skills program to the Illinois Renaissance renovation of Memorial Stadium. Ron has been an exemplary leader, and our students will benefit from his vision for years to come."
Guenther began his career as an Illini football player in 1963 as a freshman on the Big Ten championship squad featuring Dick Butkus and Jim Grabowski that went on to win the Rose Bowl. He went on to earn team Most Valuable Player honors as a senior in 1966, when he also was named second-team All-Big Ten as an offensive guard. He also was named first-team Academic All-Big Ten honors and recognition as the University's outstanding senior in physical education.
Guenther was named the 17th Director of Athletics on May 14, 1992, after serving two years with the UI Foundation as Director of Major Gifts. His career also includes eight years at North Central College in Naperville, Ill, including a stint from 1975-79 as director of admissions and also as an associate head football coach. From 1979-83, he served as the vice president of development and public affairs at North Central. As associate head football coach, Guenther helped the Cardinals amass a 23-12-2 record, including the school's first winning season in 15 years.
Before moving to North Central College, Guenther was the offensive line coach at Boston College from 1971-74, helping develop nine NFL players. From 1968-71, Guenther was a teacher and coached football, wrestling and track and field for the Evanston Township and Glenbard High School systems in suburban Chicago.
A native of Elmhurst, Ill., and a graduate of York High School, he lettered at Illinois in 1965 and 1966, helping Illinois to a 24-14-1 record in his four seasons. Guenther earned team MVP honors on a squad that produced five All-Americans in 1966. He was inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
What They're Saying:
"Ron Guenther's contributions at the University of Illinois over the last two decades have been truly remarkable, unique and historic. Ron has built buildings, balanced the budget, hired good coaches, grown educational and athletic opportunities for student-athletes and demanded integrity. And he has done it all with both a love for the university and a full awareness of how intercollegiate athletics is an integral part of the higher education mission. I will always appreciate his sense of collegiality and the value he placed on the conference. No other director of athletics enjoyed more friendships among Big Ten administrators than Ron, and we all look forward to continuing the relationships he has built over the last 20 years. On a personal note, I've had a lot of good friends in my time at the Big Ten, but there's no finer person than Ron, and I wish him and his wife Megan all the best in the future."
"Ron is a tremendous colleague and friend. His wisdom, vision, energy and collegiality have made a profoundly positive impact on the Big Ten and on the University of Illinois. Ron will be greatly missed in intercollegiate athletics."
"The Big Ten Conference will miss Ron Guenther. No one knows better what the Big Ten is all about than Ron. He made a great contribution not only to Illinois, but to our conference."
"Ron has made great contributions to the University of Illinois, the Big Ten and nationally during his outstanding career as an Illinois student-athlete and administrator. He has helped move Illinois Athletics and the University forward in many ways and been a role model for student-athletes, coaches and administrators. Ron has been a good friend and sounding board going back to Penn State's initial years as Big Ten members. We wish him all the best as he transitions to this new chapter outside of intercollegiate athletics."
"Ron was a very effective consensus builder. He always fought for Illinois, but also understood the value of the Big Ten and could separate the two. And, he had a great sense of humor."
"Ron has been involved in college athletics for more than 45 years in a variety of different roles, but, obviously the last 19 years as our athletics director. I've always said he's a coaches' AD because of his own experience as a coach. He knew when to get involved and when not to be involved and was very supportive. I will miss his leadership within the DIA, and will always be grateful for the opportunity he gave me here at the University of Illinois."
"In more than 30 years in this business, Coach Guenther is one of the finest men I've ever been around. He's as good a boss as I've ever had, and I don't say that lightly. He is the ultimate coach's AD. He listens, he helps and he is always there--always--when you need him. I hope he will be around in some capacity for a long time, because when he is no longer involved, the University will have lost one of the brightest, most devoted and loyal administrators it will ever have. Nobody cares more about Illinois than Ron Guenther. This place is a much better place because of the time he spent here."
Athletic Director Longevity at Same FBS Institution (Current)
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