The guy who had the best year at Illinois didn’t win a game. But he won the most important battle.

Hat’s off to Josh Whitman for rolling up his sleeves and putting the fight back in the Fighting Illini.

When the former Illinois tight end became athletic director at his alma mater in March of 2016, he stepped onto a campus that had seen its two premier sports mired in turmoil.

Football was a litigious embarrassment. Tim Beckman’s reign of error had gone from public gaffes to the allegations of player mistreatment that led to his dismissal.

Basketball had become stuck in the mud under John Groce, who wound up missing the NCAA tournament in his final four seasons in Champaign.

Whitman’s unblinking vow: `We will win.’ He even put a hashtag on it.

Time will tell whether Lovie Smith makes Illini football competitive again, and whether Brad Underwood can get Illini basketball in the hunt for the glory that the school’s most successful sport covets.

But this much we already know. . . The rest of this article is available to subscribers only – to become a subscriber click here.