Western Illinois University's new athletic director marks both consistency and change. Consistency, in that Matt Tanney was the choice announced this week after serving in an interim capacity since May 2015. The change is the position will now report directly to the President instead of the Vice President of Student Services.
Among schools that compete in the Summit League, only Western and Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne had directors of athletics that did not report directly to the president. WIU President Jack Thomas said the change will make athletics and Student Services stronger.
“Athletics is a big entity. I will be taking on a lot as president in having that direct report,” Thomas said. “But yes, student services can take time and focus on other parts of that unit rather than being focused on athletics.”
WIU fired its VP of student services, Gary Biller, last week. Thomas will not comment on the reasons, citing personnel issues that are private. Thomas said the move to place athletics under his oversight was under consideration for months, as the Summit League recommended the change in a compliance audit in the spring of 2015. The Summit League also made the recommendation verbally to IPFW.
Matt Tanney continuing in the position will mark consistency for WIU. During Tanney’s interim period he hired a new football coach, saw the football team advance to the second round of the FCS Playoffs, and recorded possibly the biggest win in men’s basketball history, upsetting nationally ranked Wisconsin on the road early in the season.
Tanney says another thing that won’t change is the conferences Western competes in. In light of the budget concerns at WIU, some have suggested Western look at moving the football team to the Pioneer League, a group of FCS schools that do not offer football scholarships. Tanney is not interested in exploring that option.
“The Pioneer League – a lot of its makeup has to do with institutional fit. There’s one public school in the Pioneer League. Most of those schools are private schools that pride themselves on basketball but also have competitive football,” Tanney said. “No, that’s not on the radar right now.”
Tanney said his focus will be to keep Western moving in the right direction. He said the biggest area for improvement is to keep a winning attitude and a positive outlook.
“Today I’m asking everyone associated with Leatherneck Athletics recommit to that larger purpose. Because today, that swagger is back,” Tanney said during his introductory news conference. “What I mean is that we will not waver in our commitment to academic and athletic excellence.”
Tanney said his favorite accomplishments as interim athletic director include having a student athlete grade point average above 3.0.
Tanney was paid $100,000 per year as the interim athletic director. He will make $124,000 per year under the permanent title. His previous position at WIU, Associate Director of Athletics for Student Services, remains vacant and likely will continue to be in for the foreseeable future, according to the athletics department.