Illinois Public Media News
The NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars have reached an agreement to sell the small-market franchise to Urbana businessman Shahid Khan.
Majority owner Wayne Weaver made the announcement Tuesday, hours after he fired coach Jack Del Rio and gave general manager Gene Smith a three-year contract extension. He said Khan will have 100 percent control of the team. Weaver called Khan "a great American success story'' and said the Pakistan-born entrepreneur plans to keep the team in Jacksonville.
Khan, a University of Illinois alumnus, is the owner and CEO of the Flex-N-Gate Group based in Urbana, Ill. Khan had been a candidate to buy controlling interest in the St. Louis Rams last year. In September, the U of I named an addition to its College of Applied Sciences after Khan and his wife Ann, who donated $10 million to help fund construction of the facility.
The sale of the franchise and the firing of Del Rio are the city's most significant news since the team's inception in 1993.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
Ron Zook's first time addressing the media as the University of Illinois' former football coach was not about what went wrong this season or the future of his career. Instead, he recognized some of the people who backed him over his seven-year stint at the U of I.
In a Sunday afternoon press conference in the U of I football squad room, Zook didn't take questions. Rather, he simply said thank you to many, including former athletic director Ron Guenther for giving him a chance, current AD Mike Thomas, and U of I President Michael Hogan. Zook says sometimes, their jobs include making difficult decisions, and he respects that.
But the now-former coach says there's a lot to look forward to in the football program's future.
"I see our facilities - team - the foundation in place - two terrific bowl trips, and hopefully a third this year," said Zook. "If it falls right, our fifth year seniors will get their third bowl trip. And our players can become the first at our school with two bowl victories. I think our program is very close, I really do. We just didn't quite finish a few games here and there, and I'm proud of how close we are."
If the Illini are selected for a bowl game, it would mark their first back to back bowl appearances since 1991 and 92. Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will serve as interim coach.
Zook got a bit emotional, pausing when thanking his players, some of them who were in the press conference, calling the team a family. Zook says he wants to make sure the players are ok, and "for that reason, it's not the time to entertain questions, after I've had some time to digest and reflect, I think will be a better time for that, I hope you all understand. Thank you."
With that, Zook left the podium following a 2 and a half minute statement.
U of I Athletic Director Mike Thomas says the search for a new football coach begins immediately. But he wouldn't name specific candidates, or give a timeline for that search. And Thomas says he wouldn't rule out someone without head coaching experience, noting that academics and recruiting are also important.
He says another key factor for coaching at Illinois is success within the Big Ten conference, where the winning percentage was about 30-percent under Zook.
"So I think when you look at us first of all in a conference, are we competitive in a very good football conference?," said Thomas. "But when you're competing at the highest level, as you see with the other teams that are doing that right, that's when your name is in the national picture, they're talking about you for BCS Bowl games, and you're traditionally thought of a Top 25 team."
Thomas says he made the decision to dismiss Zook after Saturday's 27-to-7 defeat at Minnesota. He says it's easy to use the economy as an excuse for lighter attendance at Illini games, but he notes other schools are finding ways to fill the stadium. Thomas says that comes down to the quality of play on the field.
"This program - you need to feel like there's hope around it, and that people are getting excited, and that people are selling tickets," he said. "And when an Ohio State or a Wisconsin shows up, that the stadium is being sold. As a matter of fact, demand exceeds the capacity, and that's not really where we're at right now, but the hope is that someday we get there."
Zook is 34-51 at Illinois. He took the 2007 team to the Rose Bowl and lost to USC. Last season's squad beat Baylor in the Texas Bowl.
Ron Zook talks to the media on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011 hours after being fired as the University of Illinois' football coach
Ron Zook's run as Illinois football coach is over.
U of I Athletic Director Mike Thomas issued a press release Sunday, announcing that Zook would not be retained as head football coach, ending a sen-year run that saw the Illini qualify for three bowls, including the 2008 Rose Bowl.
The announcement came a day after the Illini ended the season at 6-6, losing six straight to end the season, including Saturday's finale at Minnesota 27-7.
"I assessed the entire program and felt that it was time for a change in leadership," Thomas said. "It is imperative that our program shows some consistency and competes for championships, and I think a change in coaches can help us get there sooner. I wasn't here seven years ago when Ron Zook took over as coach, but it's clear the program is in better shape than what he inherited."
Thomas says new leadership is needed to take the football program to the level to compete for championships on a consistent basis.
Zook was named head coach at Illinois in December, 2004, and compiled a record of 34-51, including 18-38 in Big Ten play during his Illini stint. The six-game losing streak came after starting the 2011 campaign with six consecutive victories and earning at Top 20 ranking. In 2007, Illinois surprised many with a 9-4 record, including a 6-2 mark in Big Ten play to finish in second place.
The Fighting Illini posted a memorable 28-21 vicory over top-ranked Ohio State at Columbus that season to propel them into a Rose Bowl invitation. Following the 2007 season, Zook was named the Liberty Mutual National Coach of the Year and Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Zook is one of only four coaches to win games at Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, and produced three first-round NFL draft picks in the last four seasons. Illinois' 38-14 victory over Baylor at the 2010 Texas Bowl was Illinois' first bowl victory since 1999.
But, the three seasons of bowl eligibility were also interspersed with two wins in 2005 and 2006, five wins in 2008 and three in 2009. Zook finishes his Illinois tenure with a winning record over just Indiana among conference opponents. Thomas indicated a national search would begin immediately and that he hoped to name a new coach as soon as possible.
"Obviously, we have some hiring policies and regulations to follow, and some candidates may be involved with their own teams and bowl preparations, but I expect to move forward quickly," Thomas said.
Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, was head coach at Wyoming from 2000-02, will serve as interim coach through the expected bowl game appearance.
UPDATE: Hours after he was fired as football coach at Illinois Ron Zook is thanking the university and his players for what he called "seven special years.
Illinois beat Lipscomb 79 to 64 Thursday night, before about 6,000 fans who braved freezing winds to watch the latest installment of the Cancun Challenge at the Assembly Hall.
Lipscomb kept the game close in the first half. Junior forward Tyler Griffey says his team wasn't collecting enough hustle points -- for steals, charges-taken and turnovers -- what's known as the Matto chart after the late Matt Heldman.
"We only had 17 on the Matto, and ended up with 45," said Griffey, "So that (the team) was really stressed at the halftime peptalk. We came out, we had to play harder. Just do the little things. Cut hard, play defense, just get shutouts."
The Illini broke the game open with a 14-0 run, holding the Bison scoreless for nearly six minutes. DJ Richardson and Sam Maniscalco led the Illini with 17 and 15 points, respectively.
Illinois is now 2-0 in the Cancun Challenge. Among the spectators was U of I football player Trulon Henry, who was shot in the hand early Sunday morning when a gunman fired into a crowd at a party at a house on South Lincoln Avenue near campus. Two others were injured, one critically. The gunman remains at large.
Also in the challenge Thursday night, Illinois State beat SIU Edwardsville 68 to 38 for their first game in the tournament. ISU plays Lipscomb tomorrow afternoon. And the 8 participating teams continue play in Cancun, Mexico next Tuesday and Wednesday.
(Photo courtesy of Rob McColley, Smile Politely.com)
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The Chicago Cubs have hired Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum as their new manager.
The Cubs announced the move Thursday and said he would be introduced at a news conference Friday at Wrigley Field.
Sveum replaces Mike Quade, who was fired after the season by Theo Epstein, the team's new president of baseball operations.
Epstein and Sveum worked briefly together in Boston, when Epstein was the team's general manager and Sveum served as the Red Sox third base coach during the 2004-05 season.
At the time, Sveum was often criticized for an aggressive approach that led to runners being thrown out at the plate. But the coach with the nickname of "Nuts" was part of a championship team and is a believer in the advanced statistical analysis that Chicago's new leadership loves and is counting on to build up the farm system.
"I do my due diligence and video work and prepare as much as anybody," Sveum said before he was hired. "As far as the stats, those are what they are, and we can use them to our advantage. It's a big part of the game now. It's helping us win a lot of ballgames, the stats and the matchups. That's just part of the game now, and you use what you can."
Sveum was also under consideration by the Red Sox for its managerial vacancy and interviewed twice with the team.
Sveum began his pro career as a switch-hitting shortstop for the Brewers and had a 25-homer season before his career was slowed after an outfield collision. In 12 seasons with Milwaukee and six other teams, he batted .236 with 69 home runs and 340 RBIs in 862 games. He was drafted by Milwaukee in the first round (25th overall) in 1982.
Sveum re-joined the Brewers as a coach in 2006 and briefly filled in as the team's interim manager during the end of the 2008 season.
Sveum did well in his limited run as Milwaukee's manager. After Yost was fired following a 3-11 slide in September, Sveum led the Brewers to their first playoff appearance in 26 years, winning six of seven down the stretch and capturing the wild card on the final day of the regular season.
Milwaukee then decided to hire a more experienced manager in the offseason and went with Ken Macha, who lasted two seasons. Sveum stayed on as the hitting coach and oversaw one of the best offenses in the National League last season. With Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder leading the way, the Brewers hit an NL-high 185 homers and were third with a .261 batting average on their way to the NL Central title -- well ahead of the Cubs.
Sveum emerged as the Cubs' leading candidate after an in-depth interview process that included such candidates as Texas Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux and Indians coach Sandy Alomar, Jr., among others.
He'll take over a team that finished last season 71-91 and hasn't won a World Series in 103 seasons.
Illinois coach Ron Zook isn't interested in talking about job security.
Zook told reporters Tuesday that he would end his weekly news conference if anyone asked about his job following four straight losses and a weekend of off-field trouble for his players.
He kept his promise, walking out after he was asked if had talked to his players about handling questions about his future.
The seventh-year Illini coach started the season with six wins, but has now watched his team lose four in a row.
Over the weekend, starting linebacker Trulon Henry was shot in the hand at a party where two other people were shot. In another incident, two other reserve players were arrested following a fight on campus. Zook suspended them.
The St. Louis Cardinals have hired Mike Matheny to a two-year contract as their new manager, with a club option for a third season.
The World Series champs say they are not worried that Matheny has never filled out a lineup card for a major league game.
"Many people may question this hire for his lack of experience," general manager John Mozeliak said at a news conference Monday to introduce Matheny. "All arrows pointed to Mike. In the end, the decision became very clear."
Matheny replaces Tony La Russa, who abruptly retired after the Cardinals won the World Series last month. Mozeliak said the four-time Gold Glove catcher stood out from a group of candidates that began with about 35 names and a final list of six that included Terry Francona, Ryan Sandberg and longtime Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo.
The 41-year-old Matheny donned a No. 22 Cardinals jersey at his inaugural news conference in the same room where La Russa stepped down two weeks earlier. He called it "the greatest honor of my life."
"I would say to the Cardinal fans, I can't tell you how excited I am about this opportunity," Matheny said. "I know there's a high level of expectation. If I didn't think I could do it, I certainly wouldn't have walked into the interview process."
The Cardinals expect to finalize the coaching staff by the end of the week. Mozeliak said pitching coach Dave Duncan, who is signed for next season, should be back, and Oquendo also could return.
Mozeliak said the team envisioned Matheny as managerial material when they added him to the organization two years ago. Matheny was a special assistant in player development last year and prior to that had been a minor league instructor.
Mozeliak said he was in contact with La Russa during the interview process.
"I don't know if the word consulting is right," Mozeliak said. "He was someone I kept abreast of the process. I always welcome his opinion."
Matheny is the Cardinals' youngest manager since Jack Krol, also 41, in 1978.
Matheny's playing career blossomed after he signed a one-year free-agent deal to be the backup catcher in St. Louis. Though a career .239 hitter, Matheny did enough defensively to earn a starting job. Matheny was with the Giants when his career was ended by concussions in 2006. He said he's been symptom free for about 1 1/2 years.
Francona was the only candidate who had major league managing experience. He left the Red Sox after the team collapsed in September. Oquendo coached for La Russa the last dozen years after playing the final decade of his career with the Cardinals and has had a handful of interviews for managing openings.
The Cardinals also interviewed Triple-A manager Chris Maloney and Chicago White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing.
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
A longshot with no previous managerial experience has won the managerial post of the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
The St. Louis Cardinals said they will announce the hiring of Mike Matheny as manager during a news conference Monday.
Matheny, a former St. Louis catcher, will replace the retired Tony La Russa, who stepped down after leading the team to the World Series title.
The 41-year-old Matheny was a minor league instructor with the Cardinals and has no managing experience. He played for St. Louis from 2000-04 and won three Gold Gloves. He won another with San Francisco.
(With additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Urbana police are investigating a shooting early Sunday morning near the University of Illinois campus. Police say three people were injured, including a linebacker with the U of I football team.
The incident happened at 1004 South Lincoln Ave in Urbana at around 3:25am. The three victims include 27-year old Trulon Henry of Savoy, a two-year starter with Illinois. Illinois Coach Ron Zook says Henry was with teammates at the party when he was shot in the hand, and now will miss the rest of the regular season.
The other victims are a 23-year old Park Forest man, and a 22-year old Palos Park man. They were all transported to Carle Hospital for medical treatment, and one has been treated and released. The other two men were receiving treatment, as of Sunday afternoon, and their current condition is unknown. Police say the gunman is still being sought. Zook says a handful of Illinois players, largely underclassmen, were at the party but were not injured.
At this time, Urbana Police have determined that the shooting was an isolated incident that occurred during a house party. An altercation developed between attendees, and the suspect fired several shots into the crowd gathered on a patio, which was estimated at more than 100 people. Zook says Henry wasn't originally at the party, but was called by a teammate to help encourage players to leave after the gathering turned chaotic.
Through preliminary investigations, Urbana Lt. Bryant Seraphin tells the News-Gazette that the shooter is believed to be a black male in his 20s with dreadlocks. He was also wearing a dark colored coat and was last seen in or around a silver Dodge Charger. Upon arrival, officers learned that the suspect had fired several rounds from a handgun. The offender had fled before police arrived at the scene.
U of I President Michael Hogan released a statement late Sunday afternoon, stating that according to U of I police, there was never a threat to students elsewhere on campus, but as soon as the police were able to confer with Urbana officers and confirm the appropriate information to be released, they sent out an Illini-Alert to campus (it was sent at 4:42 a.m.)
Anyone with information should call the Urbana Police Department at 217-384-2320. Callers can remain anonymous by contacting Champaign County Crime Stoppers at 373-8477 (TIPS). President Hogan says counselors are on hand to assist students, faculty, and staff. Anyone needing immediate assistance can call the Emergency Dean at 217-333-0050.
Henry is a native of Washington, D.C., and was a starting outside linebacker this season after starting all 13 games as a safety with Illinois in 2010. He's ninth on the team with 39 tackles and is tied for the team lead with two interceptions.
((This report was updated and revised Sunday, following its original release earlier in the day)).
Amanda McGrory of the United States set a course record in the women's wheelchair race and Masazumi Soejima of Japan won the men's race at the New York City Marathon.
The 25-year-old McGrory of Champaign, Ill., finished the 26.2-mile course through the five boroughs of New York in 1 hour, 50 minutes, 24 seconds.
McGrory, a four-time Paralympic medalist, also won the Paris and London Marathons one week apart this year. She was followed by Shelly Woods of Britain (1:52:52) and Tatyana McFadden of the United States (1:52:52).
The previous women's course record was set by Edith Hunkeler of Switzerland in 1:52:38 in 2007.
In the men's wheelchair competition, the 41-year-old Soejima finished in 1:31:41, followed by Kurt Fearnley of Australia (1:33:56) and Kota Hokinoue of Japan (1:34:22).
In the main NYC Marathon competition, Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya won with a course record time of 2 hours, 5 minutes, 6 seconds (unofficial), crushing the previous mark of 2:07:43 set by Tesfaye Jifar of Ethiopia a decade earlier.
In the women's competition, Firehiwot Dado of Ethiopia won in a stunning comeback. Dado trailed London Marathon champ Mary Keitany by nearly 21/2 minutes at the 15-mile mark but passed her with about a mile left for her first major marathon victory. The 27-year-old Dado won in an unofficial time of 2 hours, 23, minutes 15 seconds --- almost a minute better than her previous personal best.
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