Smile Politely

It’s time for Mike Thomas to go

Mike Thomas needs to get fired.

Yeah, I know, this column has been a little sports heavy the last two weeks. I’m sick of writing about this stuff.

In reality, though, the issues surrounding the University of Illinois’ Athletic Department are far reaching and have implications that can and will affect the University as a whole and, in a perfect world, these allegations should help to spark some change in how NCAA athletic departments function.

We know the latter will not happen due to money.

But, in terms of what’s going on here locally, a change needs to be made. Mike Thomas has to go. The allegations from Simon Cvijanovic were one thing. That they were corroborated by other players is another thing.

The allegations against the Women’s Basketball program compound this issue. Having four players transfer in 2015 and parents writing letters citing medical malfeasance from the athletic department show that something is wrong. Associate head coach Mike Divibliss “mutually parted ways” with head coach Matt Bollant after some horrific letters from parents surfaced.

So, why am I not just calling for the heads of Tim Beckman and Bollant? Those two programs seem to be the black sheep of the athletic department right now. Why call for Mike Thomas’s head too? Men’s spring sports were awesome as Tennis, Golf, Track & Field, and Baseball all won Big Ten titles, shouldn’t that mean something?


Mike Thomas oversees the entire athletic department. It’s his job to know exactly what’s going on with every sport, and the idea that he would be too far removed from any of these allegations is absurd. It’s the same absurdity that Bollant hasn’t been fired yet. If you’re a head coach, it’s your job to know what’s going on with every aspect of your program. If you don’t, then you’re either incompetent or an idiot — which is the only logical defense that I think Bollant can go with to save his job at this point.

If the expectations are for coaches to know everything going on in their programs, the expectation for the Athletic Director is to know everything that’s going on within each program.

Thomas was on AM 670 The Score yesterday morning with Mike Mulligan and Brian Hanley. The two hosts are the cupcakes of the Score’s roster, they usually hurl softballs at their interview guests and turn and watch them fly over the centerfield fence. They asked some tougher questions of Thomas and he sounded like someone who should not have been answering any questions publicly.

Here was the first thing he said about the athletic department:

Things are clicking, things feel real good. What we stand for what we believe in. I’d rather be talking about a sweep of Big Ten mens championships.

Okay, good. Things certainly ARE clicking, Mike.

But, there were three things that came out of Thomas’s mouth yesterday that were pretty damning in my mind and things that show that this man is incapable of running a Big Ten Athletic Department. It shows that he’s got no idea or control over what’s going on here.

First, Mulligan asked, “When it was in your hands you said I will not reveal the results of the investigation, did you make a misstep?”

Thomas bumbled around and then said, “I was being sensitive to the privacy laws that are for our student athletes as it relates to their protection.”

Now, if these students were okay with their parents sending in letters calling for the coach’s head and four of them transferred, what kind of protection are they gaining from hiding the results of investigations?

How stupid do you think we are, Mike? Unless you’re a water carrier from ESPNCU or the N-G, you can’t possibly believe that the internal facts being sheltered are for the protection of the rights of the players and students. There’s no way that’s the case. What could he be protecting them from? The media? Me? You?

The second issue was when Thomas said, “We hold our coaches and staff to the highest ethical standards… We stay on top of these things pretty good.”

Mike, if this is the case then release the results from investigations. Let’s see how on top of these things you really were. If you’re telling the truth then you’ll be vindicated. Hiding behind legalese in this sense does nothing to help the credibility of the University or the Athletic Department and it will do no good in trying to recruit new players going forward. If you want to run a successful department, you’re going to need new players.

Finally, the biggest issue, for me, was when Mulligan asked regarding Bollant, “Do you vet his staff?”

Thomas replied with, “We vet them to a certain extent.”

Mulligan whiffed on a follow up here, because I want to know what that certain extent is. Yesterday afternoon, the afternoon show on The Score mentioned that they had spoken to some people with inside knowledge of Bollant’s and Divibliss’s exit from UW-GB prior to taking the job at Illinois and that they were unsurprised. Abuse of players was something that these guys were known for — but they were winning and making the NCAA Tournament so all was forgiven.

I’m not saying that winning should give coaches a pass if these allegations are true and accurate. But it makes them easier to swallow. And with that said, it sure looks to me like Mike Thomas is leading a toxic environment in a few sports. And he’s harboring losers while he’s doing it.

Fire Mike Thomas. Fire Matt Bollant.

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