In just three years as Director of Athletics at Northern Illinois University, Dr. Jim Phillips has clearly made his mark on Huskie athletics. On July 1, 2006, Phillips was promoted to Associate Vice President, in addition to his Director of Athletics title, after already being recognized by his peers in the Mid-American Conference with his selection to serve as chairman of the MAC Athletic Director's Council. Phillips' efforts stretch beyond DeKalb as he has helped NIU develop a national presence since arriving on campus.
One of 10 children from a middle-class family, Phillips, who grew up in the Portage Park neighborhood on the northwest side of Chicago, was the perfect fit to head up a 17-sport program with 467 student-athletes at a university located in the nation's No. 3 market.
His deep Windy City roots and family orientation are an integral part of his core philosophy of providing the student-athlete with "a world-class experience" that enables them to succeed academically, socially and athletically. To achieve those goals, Phillips has worked tirelessly to elevate Northern Illinois' visibility and to improve the program from an educational, financial, structural, and facility standpoint.
The No. 1 achievement on Phillips' list is the academic success achieved by NIU student-athletes since his arrival. Phillips made academic pride the focal point of the department and that focus was highlighted by NIU student-athletes attaining their highest cumulative GPA in history with a mark of 3.074 at the completion of the 2006 fall semester. Success continued into the 2007 spring semester as Huskie student-athletes earned a 3.030 GPA, marking their fourth consecutive term above a 3.0. In addition, all 17 teams were above the 925 cut mark for the Academic Progress Rate (APR), developed by the NCAA to monitor the academic progress of institutions. Ten of the 17 Huskie athletic programs boasted team cumulative GPA's above the 3.0 benchmark and 171 individual student-athletes reached that mark, with nine owning a cumulative 4.0 GPA.
The Huskies also boast the last two Bob James Award winners, given annually to the very best Mid-American Conference student-athlete, in Marie Zidek (volleyball, 2006) and Jody Yednock (women's gymnastics, 2007).
Beyond the recent record-setting classroom performance by NIU's student-athletes, Phillips is particularly proud of the July 2005 American Football Coaches Association report which landed the Huskie football program alongside academic stalwarts Notre Dame, Northwestern and Vanderbilt with a graduation rate above 70 percent.
Phillips is taking his commitment to the student-athlete even further. In August of 2007, NIU opened the new $14 million Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Academic and Athletic Performance Center. Designed for the use and support of all 467 NIU student-athletes, the Yordon Center is the largest capital project in athletics history as Phillips and the development staff raised over $7.4 million in 18 months. Prior to Phillips' arrival, only one six-figure gift was made to intercollegiate athletics, and under his tenure that tally has risen to 27, including the third, fourth and fifth largest donations of any kind at NIU. In addition, Phillips and his staff created the Huskie Athletic Scholarship Fund (HASF) which is the new annual fund for athletics. All told, Phillips has continued to keep a balanced budget in all three years of his tenure and even secured the first sport program budget increase since 1992 from the rapid growth of the HASF.
In addition, the Huskie Indoor Training or "H.I.T." Center, an indoor practice center for baseball, softball, and golf, opened in fall 2007.
While facilities such as the Yordon Center will be Phillips' legacy at NIU, his landmark agreement with radio power WSCR-AM has placed the Huskies in the heart of the vast Chicago media market. Phillips and WSCR Vice-President / General Manager Paul Agase unveiled a four-year agreement in 2005 for the 50,000-watt station to carry all Huskie Sports Radio Network football broadcasts, men's basketball games and a weekly NIU show. In addition to Huskie football and basketball, The Score is the radio home of the 2005 World Champion Chicago White Sox and the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks.
Along with success, the visibility of Huskie football has increased significantly under Phillips. In 2006, all 13 NIU games were televised by either ABC Regional, ESPN2, ESPNU and Comcast SportsNet, one year after nine of 12 contests were televised in 2005. A total of 32 Huskie contests have been broadcast over the last three years. The Huskies opened the 2007 season on national television when NIU hosted Big Ten opponent Iowa at Soldier Field in a game seen on ESPNU.
Phillips has played a key role in upgrading the Huskies' non-conference schedule by successfully negotiating and reaching agreements with perennial powers and high-profile opponents. In 2005, NIU opened with nationally televised games at Michigan and Northwestern; the Huskies faced top-ranked Ohio State and Iowa in 2006, and continued to face quality opponents in 2007 including Iowa and Wisconsin. The next two seasons should prove no different, as the Huskies will host Navy as well as travel to Tennessee in 2008 and welcome their first ever Big Ten opponent to Huskie Stadium in 2009 in Wisconsin.
Phillips secured the 2007 NCAA Men's Golf Central Regional, which the Huskies hosted at the new home of NIU golf, Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., rated among the Top 50 golf courses in America according to Golf Digest. Phillips also helped secure a bid for preliminary men's soccer rounds for the 2016 Olympics at Huskie Stadium should Chicago be named as the host city.
This increased visibility goes hand in hand with the athletic success the Huskies achieved during the 2005-06 academic year. For the first time in history, both the NIU football and men's basketball teams captured MAC West Division titles in the same year, with the gridiron achievement marking the fourth division title in five years for the Huskies. The 2006-07 school year provided the most competitively successful year in school-history: Football - seventh consecutive winning season and second bowl appearance in three years; Men's Soccer - MAC Champions, MAC Tournament Champions, advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament; Volleyball - MAC West Champions; Women's Soccer - MAC Tournament Finalist; Baseball - most MAC wins in school history; Women's Basketball - won 19 games, the most since the 1993-94 campaign; Wrestling - three NCAA national qualifiers; Women's Gymnastics - three NCAA qualifiers.
When it comes to enhancing the athletics program, Phillips established the league's most wide-ranging, multi-year partnerships with adidas (the official outfitter of NIU athletics) and Gatorade (including significant summer camp sponsorship) for NIU. During the 2006-07 academic year, corporate sponsorships increased 236% while Huskie licensing hit a new record for sales in the history of the department.
Phillips led an overhaul of the NIU website - a five-year partnership with CSTV that makes it easier for fans around the world to follow the Huskies and will enable live video broadcast of sporting events over the Internet - which is an example of the forward thinking that is evident throughout the ever growing list of accomplishments.
These efforts help improve the way of life for NIU's student-athletes, which is always at the forefront on Phillips' mind. Throughout the year, the Phillips family hosts dinners for NIU student-athletes and staff, welcoming all 467 student-athletes and athletics staff to their home in an effort to connect and make everyone feel a part of the NIU family.
Phillips instituted the NIU Smart Card, which is given to every student-athlete and member of the athletics department and is to be carried at all times. The Smart Card helps the student-athlete to make the right choices and reminds them to "represent yourself and the institution in a positive fashion at all times." In addition, Phillips has secured the services of a full-time sports psychologist to give the Huskies added resources that they need to be successful.
The work done by Phillips to enhance the experience for NIU's student-athletes earned him a 2006 Certificate of Recognition from the Northern Illinois University Supportive Professional Staff Council, as well as the 2007 Robert R. Neyland Outstanding Athletic Director Award given by the All-American Football Foundation.
Over the past three years, Phillips guided an extensive self-evaluation of how athletics operates which led to a reorganization of the department's administration. A member of the University's Strategic Planning Committee, his reorganization led to an enhanced partnership between the departments and their various university equivalents, providing relationships that benefit the university as a whole. One example of these changes was moving student-athlete academic services under the umbrella of the Provost's office, providing the staff and NIU student-athletes with the same resources as the entire NIU student enrollment.
When it comes to finding the ideal combination of a role model and an up-and-coming coach, Phillips is batting 1.000. He hired Olympian Connie Teaberry to oversee women's track and field; former Notre Dame recruiter, associate head coach, and current USA Basketball assistant Carol Owens for women's basketball, former Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton for men's basketball and three-time DePaul All-American Lindsey Chouinard for softball. Most recently, Phillips brought two-time Football Championship Subdivision Coach of the Year Jerry Kill to Northern Illinois.
Phillips' dedication to the CHAMPS/Life Skills Program resulted in NIU student-athletes conducting clinics, raising money and goods for victims of Hurricane Katrina, troops overseas, the DeKalb Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, quilts for homeless, stocking toiletries for a homeless and women's shelter and staffing the local hospital's Halloween Party for children. NIU boasts 100% participation from 486 student-athletes in community service events and the impact on the community has been strongly felt.
Phillips' dedication to community service comes from his upbringing.
How does one get from Our Lady of Victory grammar school and Weber Catholic High School to athletics director at one of the nation's 119 Division I institutions? For Phillips, the process began as a student assistant in the University of Illinois athletics department from 1988-90. He then served at Arizona State University as a graduate student and as restricted earnings basketball coach during a period in which the Sun Devils reached the postseason five straight years. Enter new ASU athletics director Kevin White, who brought Phillips into athletic administration to work with the Sun Devils' annual giving program and the program's $35 million campaign for facilities.
Then the University of Tennessee called-where he initially met future NIU president John Peters who served as the UT provost-and Phillips went into overdrive. As an assistant athletics director, he directed a $12.4 million annual athletics giving program and wound up being directly responsible for identifying, cultivating, and soliciting all major gifts and donations for the Volunteer athletic program. He also aided in originating the first-ever capital campaign for athletics at UT that raised over $50 million for endowments, facilities, and programs. In addition, he had supervisory duties over athletic programs and a variety of other areas.
Phillips then moved to the University of Notre Dame in 2000, where he served as Associate Director of Athletics and Senior Associate Director of Athletics for External Affairs. During 2002-03, he helped launch the Rockne Heritage Fund, which became the first-ever athletics annual fund that directly benefited student-athlete grant-in-aid scholarships. In addition, he managed the ticket office, various corporate sponsorships, athletic programs and a weekly Irish radio show.
At the same time, Phillips played an integral part in the funding of a new $24-million, 96,000-square foot athletics facility. At Notre Dame, Phillips directed all phases of the athletics community relations program and helped develop new institutional and departmental advancement programs. In addition, Phillips assisted in the planning of the first-ever athletics campaign which is raising over $105 million dollars for athletics.
Phillips graduated from Illinois in 1990 with a Bachelor of Science degree in kinesiology. He earned a master's of education degree in administration from Arizona State in 1992. Phillips completed his Ph.D. in education administration in the summer of 2007 from the University of Tennessee. He and his wife, the former Laura Hayes of Des Plaines, have four children-Luke, 7; Madeline, 6; Meredith, 4; and John, 3. Laura Phillips graduated from Illinois in 1989 with a degree in economics and received an MBA from DePaul University in 1993.