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CHAMPAIGN – As the University of Illinois confirmed Wednesday that alumnus Josh Whitman is the school’s 14th permanent director of athletics, Whitman sent a message of promise to Illini fans everywhere.

“First, we will prepare our student-athletes as graduates of our institution to be leaders in our changing world. Second, we will build a stronger and more passionate constituency of alumni, donors and fans. And last, but certainly not least, WE WILL WIN,” Whitman wrote in a letter to I-Fund donors who support athletics.

He compared the job he faces to climbing a mountain and asked that people join him on the hike.

“We cannot stand idly by and watch our competitors race up the mountainside,” he said. “Today, the climb begins. I am honored and privileged to make it with you and I look forward to the journey. It will be the trip of a lifetime.”

Whitman will be introduced at a press conference at 10 a.m., today in the Hall of Fame Room of the Bielfeldt Athletics Administration Building. The news conference will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network and at www.fightingillini.com.

Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson announced the appointment in a press release Wednesday evening.

She said Whitman’s history as an Illini student-athlete made him an appealing candidate. “But that’s not the reason he stood out in this search,” she said. “He impressed all of us 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.”

Whitman will begin his official duties on March 21, Wilson said. He is leaving Washington University in St. Louis, where he has served as director of athletics since June of 2014. Prior to that he was athletics director at Wisconsin-La Crosse for four years.

Whitman played football as a tight end at Illinois and graduated with Bronze Tablet honors in 2001 while earning a degree in finance. He played four years in the National Football League then earned his law degree at Illinois, graduating summa cum laude in 2008.

During his time in law school, he worked in the Illinois Department of Intercollegiate Athletics on several initiatives including endowment, naming rights proposals, marketing and fund-raising for the now-completed $121 million renovation of Memorial Stadium.

Before becoming an athletics director, he practiced law in Washington, D.C., with the firm Covington & Burling LLP, serving clients that included Microsoft and the NFL.

“It’s a dream come true for me to return to my alma mater as the next director of athletics,” Whitman said.

University President Timothy Killeen offered his endorsement.

“I enthusiastically share the confidence of the chancellor and search advisory committee that (Whitman’s) success will continue here at Urbana,” 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 will have all my support.”

The 37-year-old Whitman is a native of West Lafayette, Ind., and is married to Hope Hunt Whitman.

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Sports Columnist

Sports columnist for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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