May 17, 2011
Illinois Director of Athletic Ron Guenther met with media on Monday afternoon after announcing his retirement. The full transcript is below:
Opening statement from Guenther:
"I sent everything out this morning, and I had talked about this since Friday and I thought that maybe we should meet with you folks and answer any questions. Obviously the decision to step down is not easy. But, I also think in my gut that the timing of this felt right. I think the one piece of this is that I felt strongly that Chancellor Easter, who had 27 years experience here at Illinois, and that the department could participate in a succession plan. But the timing in my gut was that this was the right time with a new Board of Trustees, a new President. It just felt like the right time to move on. And we'll leave it at that."
Have you met with President Hogan since he met with the News-Gazette last week?
"No I haven't."
So this was a decision you made last week basically on your own?
"Not necessarily. I think that President Hogan was fully aware of the discussions that we had. So, I was taken back when that article did come out. But, it was not a question of did we talk one way or another. I think he got out a little bit in front of it if you want to call it that. But, I think we are all on the same page. It was just a question of when we were going to decide to do it.
How would you describe how you feel after having made this very big decision?
"Well, you know you never feel good. I mean, at least I didn't feel great. I still feel like I had a lot of energy and a lot to still give. But, at the same time, 19 years is a long time to be doing what I am doing. Obviously, as I tried to say before, my gut said this was the time to move on. I feel much better today than the day I was struggling with it."
Any thoughts about the Assembly Hall? Are you going to be involved in that in any way?
"Yes, I have got an option. None of that has been decided yet. But, I know that I am committed and I think the Board of Trustees, the President, the new Chancellor, are all committed to pushing that project forward. We are right in the middle of the selection process, as you guys know. We got a construction manager; we got an advertisement out on that. And then our committee met last week to come up with a finalist for the architectural and engineering firm. So, that will all continue."
So what you were doing before with the Assembly Hall, you will continue in those specific duties? There won't be any change in what you're doing with the Assembly Hall?
"Well, my responsibilities, I will be out July 1, but I have been given an option...OK, we will just have to see how everybody feels"
But regarding the Assembly Hall itself...
"The Assembly Hall has got a team of people. Dana Brenner is chairing that; he will drive it. And as I indicated before, we've got Warren Hood and Steve Green and his group. So, the template as to how that project will go forward is in place with the right people. There may be a possibility for me to come back at a point after August to assist with whatever projects we still want to get pushed forward."
Do you know what you would do at that point, what your role would be?
"No, not specifically."
But you would be a fundraiser in regards to this, or overseer, or what would be the right title?
"Possibly. I think it would similar to probably Dr. Stanley Ikenberry's title, `Special Assistant to the Director'. As I said, none of the details of that have been worked out."
Why would you not want to stay on until your successor is named?
"Well, I might."
OK, you mean beyond June 30? If it runs that long?
"I think it's possible a new Director can be named by mid-summer, meaning July 1."
But, if that was not the case, you would...have you set an absolute firm date, or if he wasn't going to get here for a month later would you stay for another month?
"Nope. I'm done July 1."
And if the Director is not replaced by then, Ron, who would run the Department?
"They will announce an interim Director if we are not there."
[Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations Kent Brown interjects: "I can tell you the Chancellor met with us this morning and there is a committee that has been formed. Larry DeBrock is going to chair that committee. It's his hope and the schedule is to have somebody in place by July 1. If the search goes past that, he's prepared to name an interim Director until the person is hired."]
Ron, is part of your reasoning for leaving now, do you want Chancellor Easter to have his say on this decision?
"Yea, I think this is a campus issue."
Will you be on Easter's committee to name a successor?
Will you be consulted? What will be your role?
"I am ready and willing to help, but I am not on the committee."
Have you been asked to help in evaluating who that person might be?
"No. We have a lot of good people that I think would be extremely qualified to replace me. I think that I am here to answer any questions, or give some thought to it, but I'm not going to be aggressive on it."
The timing seems not to have been your best friend in this thing. I mean, if a Chancellor had been in place earlier it might have been?
"It might have been. There was a lot of discussion about Chancellor Easter extending, and once that came about, or didn't, I felt like we had to move maybe a little bit fast than we thought."
When you look back on your tenure, what are you most proud of?
"You know, I think many of the people that were colleagues who are with me are still here. We've made some changes, but probably the culture of the Department ranks No. 1. We had come off some difficult issues surrounding the integrity component, and I felt that that really had to be addressed up front. That had to be one of the deepest pillars that we could drive into the ground. And I think we've done that. Probably without question, I feel that may be one of the areas I am most proud of.
"I was brought in here to drive the capital campaign, to upgrade the facilities. And I think we've done a pretty fair job of that as well. We certainly had to expand the area of development, in terms of raising more money. So, those...all those things I feel really good about, and I think when you talk about culture, the hardest part for me is leaving the people we've brought in to work with. I think there are a lot of good people in the department. It gets back to the timing of this thing. I really felt that the department should participate in the succession plan. I felt that this department deserved that right. I guess the last point to your question is I feel really good about the people we have hired here."
Conversely, when you reflect back, are there things that you feel like you wish you had accomplished that didn't get accomplished?
"Well, I think that I did not want to go through the one football change. You know I was not personally involved in hiring Coach Tepper, but I worked as hard as I could there. So, when we go through these successions, I almost look at that as a failure of myself. I am here to support the coaching staff. When they don't make it, I often look back and say, `What else could we have done to assist this coach?' The same would be true of the basketball turnovers. They happened a little bit different in that Lon (Kruger) wanted to try the NBA, and Bill (Self) thought that maybe going back to the Big 12 at that time was the issue. But, those would be the heartfelt parts that are disappointing for me."
Do you have the type of personality to go into retirement, to be relaxed, and enjoy it?
"No. I'm going to do something else. I just don't know what that will be yet. Like I said, there is an option to return here, possibly, and then some other things I might look at."
Would you be interested in working with the Big Ten?
"If that option presented itself, that would be an option."
Weren't you contacted by the Big Ten Network to run that operation at one point?
"I can't really say yes or no to that one, but I think there will be other options that present themselves. I do want to play as much golf as Loren (Tate) does."
Are there people within the Department, Ron, that you view as the people consideration should be given to?
"I think we have several inside the department without getting into specifics."
Do you feel like you walk away with some things, and we've covered the Assembly Hall obviously, but do you walk away with other things left undone?
"Not really. I mean, even the Assembly Hall projects, I think that there is always another page you can turn to projects. I feel very, very good about what I've been able to achieve with a great group of people. So, I haven't reflected too much one way or another, but I don't feel like I'm leaving anything undone that I wanted to do."
Well, I guess the question would be how do you see the Department today as opposed to when you took over?
"It's considerably different. We were much, much smaller."
In what way?
"You're talking about maybe 80-100 people. We actually reduced our scope, which was always difficult back in the early years. We didn't have a balanced budget. Some of you guys covered that, where we had to eliminate a couple sports. Financially, it is structured so much stronger now than before. We are in really good shape financially. We have come through good financially for 17 years. It took us a couple years to get it balanced. We got our reserves in the right place, we have control of our debt. I think we have many more services to the student-athletes. We have many more people that can communicate effectively with our constituents. If you look at our downstairs, our public relations area, communications area, all that has increased immensely in number of people and services."
How many people do you have working now in your department?
"It's over 200. I think back then we had probably 100 people. We can run those numbers, but it is considerably larger. Academic services was two or three people, now we have 10 or 11. We have an academic building and Bielfeldt. The website was barely in its' infancy in 1992."
Was your first official office as an Athletic Director was over there at Assembly Hall?
"We were in Assembly Hall. Then we moved over to Illini Plaza until we built this building. Then we finally pulled everyone together. We were operating out of the armory and we were operating out of the stadium with marketing and promotions. Tom Porter's operation was in the stadium. Then we had a handful of people in the Assembly Hall. We were spread out."
Have you spoken to Coach Zook or Coach Weber?
"Yes. We had good discussions. I think we all felt good about our working relationships. I pointed out to them that everything is in solid, solid position. Let's take a deep breath, we are in better shape than you are thinking. They wished me well and maybe understood why this might be the time to move on."
You have some thoughts in your mind about who you would like to see succeed you. Do you have people nationally that you think would make a good A.D.?
"You know, I can't answer that, Loren. Obviously, I've given a lot of thought to something like that. But, I think to be fair, as I've mentioned before, I'm moving on and I think it's real important that the coaching staff, and the management, and the administration that work within this campus have a voice to who they feel can best lead the department and just leave it at that. Everybody in this department will be asked if they've got somebody. The qualities of the kind of person they want; all those things will be framed based on conversations that the committee will have with the people in this department."
You're basically of the opinion that there is nobody that is just sitting there waiting to come in here?
"There is nobody that has been lined up to take the position over, I will put it that way. I think it is a wide-open search."
Just to be clear, Ron, what options did you have to sort through in coming to this conclusion. What were your other options?
"Well, option No. 1 was to extend the contract. That was there on the table. Another two-year option. I had extended two years, then six months, and I was hoping that I would be able to reach a personal decision based on a Chancellor. But, it became evident that that Chancellorship was not happening fast enough. It wasn't happening on the timetable I had hoped. Therefore, as we have moved around throughout the year, I was concerned that the Department would not be able to participate in the succession plan. That this might be handled with a search firm and someone without institutional history would be making a decision. You forget this is a Board of Trustees that has just been appointed not too long ago, and Dr. Hogan has only been here not even a year yet. So, I felt much more comfortable coming to the decision that this was the time to do it."
Was the search committee something that you, I don't want to say demanded, but asked for and said, `I would really like to see it done this way'?
"I think I made it quite clear that I think that's what happens to succession plans. I think there are 54 or 56 Athletic Directors that have passed through this conference since I became director, we can look that up on the record. But, the institutions that have handled the succession well, and that's really the right word is succession, have been the ones that I think did it with some sense of sensitivity to the department. I watched Michigan State just go through this. I felt strongly that that was the way to go about changing leadership."
So, it's kind of an expression of your faith in Bob Easter?
"Certainly, he's got institutional memory, he's got institutional history. He and Bill Adams, I've known Bill a long, long time, they've worked very closely with this department. Our athletic board has been very open, Larry DeBrock has served on our athletic board twice, so he has eight-plus years history with this department. I think there are a lot of good people that would be highly qualified to replace me. And I think they would know best what they would like to have in leadership."
What is it about this job that would have so many AD's change during the time you've been here in this conference alone?
"Some of the rotation has happened because of the changeover at the Presidential level. Whenever you go through these major changes of administration, it makes a strategic plan for a department much more difficult. We had a wonderful 16-year run with Stan Ikenberry. When you have anchored leadership, and they have continuity at the top, it allows it to be just like we have. You're not constantly backing up and taking a look, reprioritizing, and moving a different direction.
"There's always a little bit of heat in every chair in leadership. The question becomes how much heat is the unit going to be able to take? Most of that heat depends on the very, very top. I've been very fortunate to have administrations be very supportive of our department. When you say, `What makes for all that change?', it's pretty easy when you get into a challenging, difficult spot to change leadership. Everybody's got an opinion about who can coach, who can direct, but I think that has been the reason there has been so much change. If you look at the number of Presidents that have turned over...I've got four Presidents now and five Chancellors, soon to be six, here at Illinois alone during my 19 years.
Is this a little bit like coaching has become, and may become more difficult for somebody to hold a job like this for that long?
"I'll tell you what is more difficult is the new media and the amount of pressure that coaches and athletes, administrators feel today with the instant access that people have through email, blog sites and lack of accountability. That's why you guys are here; I am much more comfortable dealing directly with the people that cover us and care about it. I don't always agree with everything that is written. I will tell you that I am much more comfortable telling the story and expressing it, because whatever you guys do with your pen is accountable. I think the job is going to get much more challenging, and I think it is up to the institutions and the people of leadership to come up with ways in which they have to deal with that. Communications has moved faster than any other area of our business.
How much have you been discussing this with Bob Easter?
"We've been at this easily after January 1, and several meetings with Dr. Hogan as well."
Do you recall the last time you met with President Hogan?
"It was probably about three weeks ago."
And, at that point, you hadn't made up your mind?
"We were still discussing things."
You said he got out front of it last week with what he said in the paper?
"Yeah. I don't think there was any miscommunication, I think as he was looking at the Chancellor search and the timing. After his announcement, I realized I was going to have to announce my decision."
Did you actually have a contract that you could have signed to continue for two more years?
Why didn't you do that? You've got energy and you've got involvement, why would you not do that?
"I think I'm ready to do something else, Loren. That's all it comes down to. My gut tells me it's the right time to move out."