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Northwestern gives athletic director Jim Phillips a 10-year extension

Updated: August 3, 2011 4:53PM

A few months ago, Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald told university president Morton Schapiro that he’d love nothing more than to have athletic director Jim Phillips at NU for the foreseeable future, in a contract that Fitzgerald hoped would equal or exceed his own 10-year extension signed in May.

“I was a bit outspoken about it,” Fitzgerald said.

But it worked. On Wednesday Schapiro announced in a statement that NU signed Phillips to a 10-year contract that will expire in 2020, the same year that Fitzgerald’s new deal also comes up for renewal.

Phillips and Fitzgerald both signed 10-year extensions this year, with Fitzgerald’s deal finalized in May. But Phillips’ contract renewal officially ends any speculation that he was headed to Illinois to fill its vacant athletic director’s position. Phillips is an Illinois alum and was on the university’s short list to replace the retired Ron Guenther.

And it solidifies the Phillips-Fitzgerald “marriage.”

“My dad has said that we are woven from the same wool,” Fitzgerald said. “I’d said [to Schapiro] that I’d love to have the opportunity to partner my contract with Jim’s and I hoped it could happen. I think back to that initial conversation and I was hoping they would look out for him and his family.”

Phillips was hired at NU in April 2008 after serving as Northern Illinois’ athletic director for four years. In his short time at NU, Phillips has put the Wildcats on the national stage with his innovative ideas.

One of his first major projects was spearheading the Illinois-NU football game at Wrigley Field last November. Despite a safety issue that required both offenses to move the ball in the same direction, the Wrigley game still delivered the college bowl-game atmosphere that Phillips — and Fitzgerald — wanted.

Phillips also hired the university’s first-ever marketing chief in June 2010 in Mike Polisky, who was formerly president of the Chicago Wolves and Chicago Rush.

Polisky and the athletic department staff were instrumental in launching the Dan Persa for Heisman Trophy campaign, which kicked off on Monday, and the slogan “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” which debuted before the 2010 football season. The slogan and ensuing marketing campaign appeared on billboards, newspapers and radio ads throughout the area.

Phillips also worked with Notre Dame in April to renew the NU-Notre Dame rivalry, which ended in 1995 after the Wildcats beat the Irish 17-15 in South Bend, Ind. The teams will play a home-and-home series beginning in November 2014 when NU travels to South Bend. Notre Dame will play in Evanston in 2018. A week later, Phillips engineered a four-game series with Stanford beginning in 2019 in Evanston.

And Phillips also is working on a facilities study, where he hopes to upgrade all of NU’s sports and recreation venues. Phillips spent most of the spring and summer travelling to universities across the country to see how their venues compare with NU’s.

The athletic department may announce in early fall the results of that study, and it could bring about major overhauls for Ryan Field and Welsh-Ryan Arena. There was a stipulation in Fitzgerald’s new extension that there would be improvements made not only to Ryan Field, but to the football facilities as a whole.

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