Looking for an athletic director doesn't hold the same level of interest as a coaching search, but the Illini's search for a replacement for athletic director Ron Guenther already has plenty of drama.

Looking for an athletic director doesn't hold the same level of interest as a coaching search, but the Illini's search for a replacement for athletic director Ron Guenther already has plenty of drama.

Guenther's last day is June 30 after making his surprise announcement to retire last week. Interim chancellor Bob Easter said a replacement could be hired by July 1, even though that appears ambitious.

Insiders watching the workings of a campus in transition under president Michael Hogan wonder who will actually make the decision on the hire: a search committee loaded with Guenther's influence and an interim chancellor, or Hogan, the hands-on president.

The answer might not come soon. Hogan's office told the media last week he was unavaible for interviews for two weeks. He may control the search while taking a backseat publicly, or Hogan could delegate the authority, perhaps seeking some public relations points on a campus where he has irritated the faculty and staff with his decisions. He might also have other pressing issues.

The timing of Guenther's move left the university and the athletic department in a bind. Guenther could have remained on the job, allowed the university to complete the hire for chancellor and given the administration time to settle before making such a key hire in athletics.

Instead, Guenther made his decision intent on hiring a replacement with "institutional history'' and possibly input from two lame ducks -- Guenther and Easter. Guenther said he wouldn't be part of the search committee, but seven of the 10 members of the committee have close ties with Guenther.

Two names have bubbled up over the Illinois vacancy.

One obvious target is Jim Phillips, the Northwestern athletics director who is an Illinois graduate and was an Illini basketball manager during the Flyin' Illini's heyday. Phillips is bright (he has a Ph.D. in educational administration), aggressive in marketing ("Northwestern, Chicago's Big Ten team") and an accessible whiz at fundraising who is reportedly on the cusp of a facility upgrade at Northwestern that may spend $200 million.

His family is comfortable in Winnetka, where Phillips resides just a few blocks from the campus, and he can make visits to his elderly father and more family in the area. He appears ready for a pay raise. If the Illini want him, they will likely have to recruit him -- aggressively. If the Illini land Phillips, it would considered a winner, no matter who made the final decision.

Another name heard around campus is Tom Michael, the associate athletic director in charge of the academic services. Michael is bright and headed upward, but he doesn't have experience in fundraising and running a major-college operation. Nevertheless, he's apparently the in-house candidate backed by Guenther.

Other names mentioned include South Florida athletics director Doug Woolard, Connecticut athletics director Jeff Hathaway, Texas Rangers chief operating officer Rick George and Craig Tiley, the tournament director of the Australian Open. Woolard, the high school coach of former Illini star Stephen Bardo at Carbondale, guided South Florida through the transition to the Big East. Hathaway worked under Hogan at Connecticut. George is a former Illini assistant football coach, and Tiley led the Illini to the NCAA title in tennis.


BASEBALL: Illinois senior first baseman Matt Dittman, whose walk-off homer in the ninth inning handed the Illini a share of the Big Ten title Saturday, earned Big Ten player of the week. The senior hit .600 during the three-game sweep of Indiana last weekend.

Seeded No. 1 in the Big Ten Tournament, the Illini earned a bye and will begin play at 6 p.m. Thursday against the Minnesota-Ohio State winner. The Illini won their first conference title since 2005, but the Big Ten is likely a one-bid league for the NCAA Tournament. The automatic bid goes to the conference tournament champ. The Illini won the conference tournament in 2000.

FOOTBALL: The Illinois home game against Arizona State on Sept. 17 has been set for a 6 p.m. kickoff with broadcast on the Big Ten Network. The date was the only night game assigned to BTN for Illinois.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.