In a decision announced this morning, the University of Illinois has fired athletic director Mike Thomas.
Thomas’ firing comes as the university’s major athletic programs continue to struggle. Since his hiring, the Illinois football team has been near the bottom of the Big Ten. Coach Tim Beckman was fired at the start of the season, amidst allegations of athlete abuse. According to the Chicago Tribune, an investigation turned up no findings of misconduct or violations made by Thomas in his role as AD.
Still, Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson said in a statement that a change in leadership was needed.
“Mike Thomas has done a good job of leading through recent challenges,” Wilson said. “Decisions such as these are always difficult, but we have to focus on the best interests of our student athletes. I believe this decision allows everyone to move forward.”
Paul Kowalczyk has been named interim athletic director. Kowalczyk joined the Illinois staff in 2012 as the senior associate director of athletics, after previously serving as the AD at Colorado State and Southern Illinois.
"I understand the administration’s decision to turn the page and turn the focus of this organization back on the success and welfare of our student-athletes," Thomas said in a statement released by the university. "The reports indicate that I acted appropriately and immediately whenever I learned of any issues related to the safety and well-being of our students. However, I understand the chancellor’s viewpoint that my continued presence may create an ongoing distraction for our students, coaches and staff, and I accept the situation.”