Illinois AD Ron Guenther will retire

Updated: May 16, 2011, 7:15 PM ET
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com

Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther announced Monday that he will retire from his post when his contract expires June 30.

The move creates potential uncertainty for football coach Ron Zook and men's basketball coach Bruce Weber, both of whom have weathered storms at least in part because Guenther continued to support them.

The 65-year-old athletic director told reporters Monday that he turned down a two-year contract extension. He said if he stayed his eventual successor would be chosen well after interim Chancellor Bob Easter -- a longtime university administrator who plans to retire in July -- stepped down, and likely by someone who lacks Easter's understanding of Illinois sports and its history.

A search committee has been formed, and Guenther expects his successor to be named by the end of the summer.

"I was concerned that the [athletics] department would not be able to participate in the succession, that this might be handled with a search firm and somebody without institutional history might be making the decision," Guenther said.

Guenther is the Big Ten's longest-tenured athletic director, serving in the role for the past 19 years.

"The last 19 years have gone extremely fast and a decision to retire has been very difficult," Guenther said in a prepared statement. "I personally want to thank all the members of the [department of intercollegiate athletics] as well as our colleagues in the academic community for their support. I have been fortunate to work with an extremely talented and loyal group. I will always be indebted. Additionally, the Illinois fan base is the best in the nation. I've always said we are fortunate to have individuals who have great passion and loyalty for the University of Illinois."

Illinois won 34 Big Ten championships during Guenther's tenure. A strong fundraiser, he spearheaded a $121 million renovation of Memorial Stadium, the largest construction project in school history. He also oversaw projects such as an indoor practice facility for football and a practice facility for the school's basketball programs Guenther helped garner more than $300 million toward capital improvements during his tenure as athletic director.

Guenther played football at Illinois from 1963-66, earning team MVP honors as a senior. Guenther became Illinois' athletic director on May 14, 1992.

"Ron Guenther's contributions at the University of Illinois over the last two decades have been truly remarkable, unique and historic," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in a prepared statement. "Ron has built buildings, balanced the budget, hired good coaches, grown educational and athletic opportunities for student-athletes and demanded integrity. ... On a personal note, I've had a lot of good friends in my time at the Big Ten, but there's no finer person than Ron."

Adam Rittenberg covers Big Ten football for ESPN.com. He can be reached at espnritt@gmail.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.