bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern
Jerry Kill speaks with reporters on in the Stadium Club at
Saluki Stadium on April 26 in Carbondale.
Steve Buhman, SIU Media Services
Chancellor Carlo Montemagno in January 2018 listens as
former Saluki football coach Jerry Kill discusses his return to
Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The chancellor announced
Thursday that Kill is taking over the athletics department after he
decided not to renew Tommy Bell's contract.
bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern
SIU head coach Barry Hinson stares at the floor late in overtime
against Illinois State during the second half of the MVC Mens
Basketball Tournament semifinal at the Scottrade Center on March 3
in St. Louis. Illinois State went on to win 76-68 in overtime.
bhetzler / THE SOUTHERN FILE PHOTO
SIU Athletic Director Tommy Bell answers questions during a
December 2015 news conference. The university announced Thursday
that Tommy Bell is out as athletic director.
CARBONDALE — Tommy Bell is out as Southern Illinois University athletic director after Carbondale chancellor Carlo Montemagno decided not to renew his contract, according to a news release Thursday.
The university announced former SIU football coach Jerry Kill, the special assistant to the chancellor, will now oversee the athletic department. Kill is not the interim athletic director, according to a spokesperson at SIU, but is adding to his duties.
"It's time for us to make a change in leadership that will help the program fulfill its potential," SIU Chancellor Carlo Montemagno said in a statement. "I am deeply grateful for Tommy's service and wish him well for the future."
Kill's new oversight begins immediately.
Bell, the former athletic director at Western Illinois and Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne, signed a three-year deal in 2015 at a base salary of $185,000 that expires May 31.
Kill, who led the Salukis to five consecutive NCAA playoff appearances between 2003-07, returned to SIU in March as an ambassador for the university. A member of SIU's Hall of Fame, Kill went 55-32 from 2001-07, winning three straight Gateway Conference titles. He won the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year Award in 2004 and the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award in 2007. Kill then left to coach at Northern Illinois from 2008-10 and Minnesota from 2011-15. He was named the 2014 Big 10 Coach of the Year, sent three teams to bowl games and produced six NFL draft picks.
Kill retired from coaching while at Minnesota because of health reasons and became an administrator at Kansas State in 2016 as the associate athletic director. He then returned to coaching at Rutgers in 2017 before stepping away last December.
Kill, who accepted the new responsibility Wednesday afternoon, said he was not sure how long he would be in charge of the athletic department. He is moving forward in trying to fill between 9-11 positions, he said, including the new head coaches for the women's golf program and the new women's soccer team that is scheduled to begin playing as an independent this fall.
"I sweat, bled at this place. I owe the place, because I went a lot of good places because of here," Kill said at a press conference on Thursday at Saluki Stadium. "It's a tough time right now, but people don't realize it was tough when we came in here. We had issues with the campus, this and that. You start winning, everybody forgets that."
Montemagno said he has not yet established a timeframe for Kill's new role and anticipates that Kill will oversee the athletics program for the immediate future. In an email to The Southern on Thursday, he said a permanent athletic director will be selected through a national search sometime in the future. He did not say whether or not Kill would be a part of that search, or a candidate.
Asked if he wanted to be the permanent athletic director, Kill said that was tough to answer because he wasn't completely aware of what the job might entail here, nor had he discussed that option with his family as of yet.
Bell's firing came shortly after he, according to multiple sources, attempted to fire men's basketball coach Barry Hinson following the 2017-18 season.
Bell attempted to raise funds from major donors to buy out the final two years of Hinson's contract, according to multiple sources close to the program who wished to remain anonymous because of their relationships with the department. It is unclear how close Bell got to the approximate $350,000 he would have needed to buy out Hinson's deal, or who interceded to keep Hinson. Sources told The Southern Illinoisan a number of major donors also came to Hinson's defense after the season, as well as Montemagno and other administrators.
Thursday, Bell told The Southern that Montemagno asked him to raise the money.
"I was following the directions of my supervisor, who was well informed of the process," Bell said.
Asked why Montemagno would not renew his contract if he followed his orders, Bell declined to comment.
Montemagno said there was no one incident that led to the end of Bell's tenure.
"There was no single factor that led to the decision," Montemagno said in an email to The Southern. "The decision was based upon the desire to change the direction of the athletics program and take it to the next level. I want to thank Tommy for all he has done for the program and wish him the best going forward."
Many fans were disappointed with Hinson and Bell after SIU chose not to pursue a postseason tournament after winning 20 games for the second time in three years, but the move to try to fire him was even more puzzling. The Salukis finished 20-13 overall and 11-7 in the Valley, four games behind regular-season and conference tournament champion Loyola, with mainly a seven-man rotation.
Forward Thik Bol, a preseason second team all-conference pick, missed the whole year with a knee injury, and backup guard Eric McGill broke his hand when he fell to the floor against Lamar 10 games into the season. All-conference guard Armon Fletcher, the team's top scorer and second-leading rebounder, missed a game after dislocating his kneecap, and starting point guard Marcus Bartley missed the first six games after breaking his right (shooting) wrist right before the season opener.
Hinson, the 2016 MVC coach of the year, finished third in the voting this year.
Guards Sean Lloyd, Fletcher and Aaron Cook all averaged 30 minutes or more per game. Senior forward Jonathan Wiley, a critical backup because he could play multiple positions, tore his ACL in the second Valley game of the season and missed 11 games before returning against Bradley for the final seven games.
Hinson, reached Wednesday, declined to comment on his working relationship with Bell or what happened after the season, but was ardent about his commitment to the 2018-19 team. The Salukis could return all five starters and eight of their top 10 players, overall.
"I'm going to be the head coach at this institution next year, and I love my team, and I love this program," Hinson said. "I'm excited as I've ever been for the upcoming season. We just finished second to a team that went to the Final Four. I know that this program has turned the corner."