Becht: Why NU needs Dr. J to stay

Colin Becht

Anyone who has ever seen athletic director Jim Phillips at a Northwestern sporting event knows he bleeds purple. In fact, with every touchdown the Wildcats surrender, goal they give up, shot they miss and fly ball they drop, I’m fairly sure Phillips actually bleeds. In regards to the color of the blood, I can’t say.

I had a first-hand account of the man’s emotional investment in NU sports when I was in Minnesota this fall for the football game against the Golden Gophers. At TCF Bank Stadium, the press box is directly next to the box for the athletic director and coaches’ families. To make a long story short, I think Phillips felt a little constrained in his language by sharing the box with coach Pat Fitzgerald’s young children.

However, it wasn’t long ago that Phillips’s blood ran Illini orange – he graduated from Illinois in 1990. Though any loyalty Phillips has to his alma mater hasn’t been an issue for the past 19 years while Ron Guenther served as athletic director for Illinois, Guenther is retiring at the end of June. According to the Chicago Tribune, Phillips is a top candidate for the job. That means for Phillips and for NU, it’s time to re-evaluate allegiances.

Just as Phillips has taken care of Fitzgerald, Bill Carmody, Kelly Amonte Hiller and many other coaches and assistants – not to mention the players and fans – it’s time for University President Morton Schapiro to take care of Phillips.

Phillips has illustrated his loyalty in the past, declining to talk with Oregon, Arizona, Kansas and Maryland about their AD opening, the Tribune reported. However, this time the threat of him leaving is much more real. After all, just as we couldn’t imagine Fitzgerald leaving his alma mater, would it be that surprising for Phillips to go to his – especially when it could come with a raise?

And don’t overlook the disaster that would be his departure. In the three years Phillips has been at NU, he has overseen arguably the greatest period in the school’s sports history (feeble as that history may be). The revenue sports are witnessing periods of unparalleled success with the football team’s three straight bowl appearances and the men’s basketball team’s three straight NIT berths.

Phillips’ triumphant tenure extends beyond the publicity of sports, though. He convinced Joe McKeown to leave a George Washington team that reached the Sweet 16 to coach an NU squad that went 5-26 the prior season.

Possibly the most incredible feature of the rise in NU athletics Phillips has overseen and engendered is the fact the Cats have won without sacrificing their academic culture. Nine NU teams were honored by the NCAA last week for being in the top 10 percent for multi-year Academic Progress Rate scores. The football team’s multi-year APR of 993 was the highest of any FBS school.

Phillips has also used the Cats’ success to put NU on the sports map. He signed the deal for the Wrigley game, created NU athletics’ marketing department and is now designing a master plan for improvements to NU’s sporting facilities.

The fact that in three years Phillips has accomplished so much that I can’t fit it all into a column illustrates just how valuable he has become to NU sports.

He’s demonstrated his commitment to NU. Now NU must reciprocate.

Assistant sports editor Colin Becht is a Medill sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]