Writing from Carmel, Indiana
Thursday, September 8, 2016
It’s good to be Mike Small these days.
If you’re him, you’re coming off a victory in the Illinois PGA Championship, your Fighting Illini golf team is once again expected to be a power on the college circuit, and Thursday, you received a six-year extension that carries through the 2021-22 season that is worth more than $2 million over that time span.
In other words, about $340,000 annually.
Small has the skins on the wall. The Illini have averaged out as the No. 1 men’s team in the country the last seven years, led everyone in making the match-play portion of the NCAA Tournament five times since the format was created, and have had a pair of individual NCAA winners in Scott Langley and Thomas Pieters to go with seven Big Ten team titles.
Oh, and the facilities have improved as well.
“Nine years ago, we were practicing in the basement of Huff Gym,” Small recalled Thursday when word came that the university’s board had approved the extension Small and athletic director Josh Whitman had negotiated.
Last spring, the athletic department put the finishing touches on an Augusta National-style outdoor practice center to go with the indoor center opened a few years earlier. It’s the best facility in the Big Ten. Now, Small has a deal to match it.
“Quite simply, Mike Small is the finest collegiate golf coach in the country,” Whitman said in a release from the school. “His record speaks for itself, in the success of his student-athletes both during and after their time at Illinois. He has defied the odds and built the Fighting Illini golf program into one of the nation's elite. This contract demonstrates our mutual commitment to Mike spending the rest of his career leading the men's golf program at Illinois.”
Small, 50, took over the program in the summer of 2000.
“I've had contracts before, but this is a bold positive statement from the University of Illinois, and I'm very excited by it,” Small said.
He had been tempted twice in the recent past, when Arizona and then Kansas came calling. In both cases, he turned down attractive offers to stay at his alma mater. There is a $600,000 buyout in the deal in case he leaves, but that’s even more unlikely now compared to then.
“It's nice the University committed to us and they appreciate the championships we have won, and what we have accomplished,” Small said. “We have great facilities and I'm where I want to be the rest of my career.”
– Tim Cronin
Look for a Grill Room column on the program Small has built in the next digital issue of Illinois Golfer, out soon.