Josh Whitman came to the University of Illinois from Washington University in St. Louis. It was a massive step up the collegiate ladder, going from Division III to Division I.
So if anyone knows what it takes to make that kind of a jump it is Whitman. On Wednesday, Whitman dipped in to that past in order to re-build the Illinois Fighting Illini as he hired Hall of Fame coach Nancy Fahey.
Fahey comes with plenty of experience, coaching at Washington University for 31 years. That includes five national championships and over 740 wins in her career.
“It gives me great pride to welcome my friend and former colleague Nancy Fahey to the Fighting Illini family as the new head coach of our women’s basketball program,” Whitman said. “With a record highlighted by five national championships, 10 Final Fours, nearly 740 wins, and a winning percentage of almost 85%, Nancy’s Hall of Fame coaching career stands among the most accomplished in the history of women’s basketball.”
The Illini program was desperate for a culture change after scandal and multiple transfers rocked the program over the last few years. Whitman’s knowledge of exactly how Fahey runs a program appears to have played a key role in making this hire.
“What is more compelling to me, however, is her ability to connect with the women on her team, to push them to be better than they ever thought possible, and to help them develop as players, students, and people. Nancy Fahey is a born leader, and she is the among the best basketball coaches I have ever seen. I could not be more excited for her to lead our Fighting Illini program to championship heights.”
She has a long line of success outside of those five national championships, making the NCAA DIII tournament in 29 of 31 years. The last title at Washington University came in 2010 as well. Fahey is also the fastest coach in NCAA history to 600 wins, coming in 704 games.
“It is such an exciting time in Illinois athletics since Josh has taken the helm,” Fahey said in the press release. “Having worked with Josh, I know he believes in doing things with integrity and the right way; I believe in the same things. I want to be a part of helping his vision become a reality.
“The cornerstone for the success I have experienced in the past has always revolved around the players. Knowing them as people and understanding their dreams and goals both on and off the court are important to me. I truly believe the players who are here and those who have committed to Illinois for next year have the ability to propel us to great heights. They want to be that team that we talk about five years from now. I want to help make that happen for them and for Illinois. Ultimately, we want every little girl, when she is growing up, to dream about Illinois as a place they want to play their college basketball.”
Illinois finished this last season 9-22 overall and just 3-13 in Big Ten play.
No doubt the hire of Fahey is going to be interesting, as the jump in talent and level of play is so drastic from D3 to D1 basketball, let alone to the level that is expected out of the Big Ten.