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Decade-long deal for Northwestern AD Jim Phillips

During his three-plus years school Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips has raised Wildcats’ profile with his innovative ideas.  |

During his three-plus years at the school, Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips has raised the Wildcats’ profile with his innovative ideas. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 14, 2011 12:18AM

A few months ago, Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald told university president Morton Schapiro he would love nothing more than to have athletic director Jim Phillips at the school for the foreseeable future.

‘‘I was a bit outspoken about it,’’ Fitzgerald said.

On Wednesday, Schapiro announced NU had signed Phillips to a new 10-year contract that will expire in 2020, the same year the new 10-year deal Fitzgerald signed in May runs out. Phillips said his previous deal was to expire in 2014.

‘‘I’m humbled that the university feels so strongly,’’ Phillips said. ‘‘I’m not sure if it is a relief to have this done, but to have the security and commitment has been humbling. I really can’t thank President Schapiro, [university] chairman [William] Osborn and [charter trustee] Pat Ryan enough.

‘‘It doesn’t feel any different when I think about what still needs to get done.’’

Phillips’ contract renewal officially ended any speculation that he was headed to Illinois to fill its vacant AD position. Phillips is an Illinois alum and was on the school’s short list to replace retired Ron Guenther. Phillips wouldn’t comment on the Illini opening.

Phillips’ new deal solidifies his ‘‘marriage’’ with Fitzgerald.

‘‘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 said he, too, sees his partnership with Fitzgerald as more than an employee-employer relationship.

‘‘Pat’s really been a vocal supporter, and I have really great synergy with Pat,’’ Phillips said.

Phillips was hired at NU in April 2008 after serving as Northern Illinois’ AD for four years. In his short time at the school, Phillips has raised the Wildcats’ profile with his innovative ideas.

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

Phillips also hired NU’s first sports-marketing chief in Mike Polisky, who was formerly the president of the Wolves and Rush. Polisky was instrumental in launching the Dan Persa for Heisman Trophy campaign, which kicked off Monday, and the slogan ‘‘Chicago’s Big Ten Team,’’ which debuted before the 2010 football season. The slogan appeared on billboards, in newspapers and in radio ads throughout the Chicago area.

Phillips also has worked with Notre Dame to renew the football rivalry between the schools, which ended after the Wildcats beat the Irish 17-15 in 1995 in South Bend, Ind. The teams will play a home-and-home series beginning in 2014, when NU travels to South Bend. Notre Dame will play in Evanston in 2018.

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