Illinois alumnus Josh Whitman was hired as the university’s 14th permanent director of athletics on February 17, 2016. On March 7, less than 48 hours following his first official day, Whitman made national headlines when he announced the hiring of coaching icon Lovie Smith as the new Fighting Illini football coach. Whitman’s “We Will Win” mantra and message of unity, optimism, and bold action have rekindled the fire in the hearts of Illini fans everywhere.
Whitman’s Illinois heritage made him an appealing candidate for the position, UI Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson said. “He impressed us all with his work ethic, his passion, his concern for the welfare of student-athletes and his commitment to diversity. He has a record of leaving programs under his leadership better and stronger than when he arrived.”
Wilson commented on Whitman’s record of improvements in facilities, increased fundraising activity and strategic organizational changes that positioned his programs for successful futures. University of Illinois President Tim Killeen said he was impressed in his personal meeting with Whitman by his integrity, experience and vision for leading the Illinois athletics program. “Josh has excelled at every level – student and professional athlete, attorney and athletic administrator,” Killeen said. “Orange-and-blue is in his bloodstream, and he is committed to the U. of I. for the long run. He will take the Illini athletics program to great success, and he’ll have all my support.”
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany described the selection as an outstanding hire. “Josh is well-respected, very bright, and as an alum, knows what it means to be a member of the Fighting Illini,” Delany said. “He will be a terrific addition to the university and the conference, and we look forward to working with him.”
Prior to coming to Illinois, Whitman spent nearly six years as an athletics director at two universities, during which time Whitman’s teams earned four national titles and 24 top-five team finishes, plus 34 conference championships.
The 37-year-old Whitman came to Illinois following almost two years as director of athletics at Washington University in St. Louis, a nationally recognized NCAA Division III program with 19 varsity sports and approximately 500 student-athletes. During Whitman’s tenure, the program posted seven top-five NCAA finishes, a combined GPA of 3.35, and a graduation rate of 99 percent. Of the more than 450 Division III schools, Washington University ranked No. 1 in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup at the time of Whitman’s departure.
Whitman has two Illinois degrees. He graduated with Bronze Tablet honors in 2001 while earning a bachelor’s degree in finance. In 2008, he graduated summa cum laude from the Illinois College of Law. He was a four-year starting tight end and two-time First Team Academic All-American on the gridiron for Illinois. He then spent parts of four seasons as a player in the National Football League, including stints with the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills. He also worked in various administrative capacities with the Illinois athletic program while attending law school.
Before joining Washington University, Whitman served as the director of athletics at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Previously, he practiced law in Washington, D.C., with Covington & Burling LLP, a firm with a preeminent sports practice that represents, among many other clients, the NFL. He also served as a judicial law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
Whitman grew up in West Lafayette, Ind., and is married to Hope Whitman. He remains a licensed attorney and is a member of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and a member of the Sports Lawyers Association.