Skip to main content

Search committee formed to find new leader for Northwestern athletics

Janna Blais will serve as interim vice president for athletics and recreation

Northwestern University today announced the formation of a search committee to identify the next leader of Wildcat athletics and recreation. James J. Phillips, the Combe Family Vice President for Athletics and Recreation, will become the next commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in February.

Janna Blais, deputy director of athletics for administration and policy, will serve as interim vice president for athletics and recreation upon Phillips’ departure in February.

Janna Blais
Janna Blais

“As we celebrate 13 magnificent years of service from Jim Phillips and wish him the very best in his new duties as commissioner of the ACC, I’m thrilled that Janna Blais, who has been a key leader here for more than a decade, has agreed to serve in the vice president and athletic director role on an interim basis,” said President Morton Schapiro. “I have full confidence in Janna’s ability to guide the department while we move forward in searching for Jim’s successor.”

Currently, Blais leads five departments within Northwestern athletics: compliance, academic services and student development, athletic training, sports performance and the David G. Kabiller NU for Life Program. She serves as department liaison at Big Ten and NCAA meetings. Within the University, she works closely with the Office of the Provost and the Office of Undergraduate Admission, as well as the offices for financial aid, general counsel, dean of students and student conduct, and the Committee for Athletics and Recreation.

Related: James Phillips selected to be next commissioner of the ACC

The search committee is chaired by Craig Johnson, senior vice president for business and finance. The committee includes members of the Board of Trustees, current and former student-athletes, faculty and staff. A recruitment firm will be retained to assist with the search.

“The committee’s mission is to advise President Schapiro about the search and present to him the best finalists for our next vice president for athletics and recreation,” Johnson said. “We will seek diverse and experienced candidates who will build on Jim Phillips’ legacy of student-athlete success both on and off the field.”

Search committee

The search committee is comprised of the following individuals:

  • Kelly Amonte Hiller, Combe Family Head Women’s Lacrosse Coach
  • Geraldo Cadava, associate professor of history in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
  • Robert Gundlach, professor of linguistics; faculty associate of The Cook Family Writing Program; Big Ten and NCAA faculty representative
  • Adam Karr, trustee; managing partner and portfolio manager of Orbis Investments (U.S.)
  • Harreld “Kip” Kirkpatrick III, trustee; co-chief executive officer of The Vistria Group; former varsity Wildcat basketball player
  • J. Landis Martin, chairman of the Northwestern University Board of Trustees; chairman and managing director, Platte River Equity
  • Therese McGuire, president of the Faculty Senate; ConAgra Brands research professorship in strategic management; professor of strategy at the Kellogg School of Management
  • Milton “Chip” Morris, Ph.D., trustee; CEO of Neuspera Medical, Inc.; former varsity Wildcat football player
  • Wendy Nelson, trustee; chair of Carlson Family Foundation; former varsity Wildcat tennis player
  • Lindsey Pulliam, class of 2021 in the School of Communication; captain of women’s basketball team
  • Kimberly Querrey, trustee; president and CEO of Gulf Shore Private Capital, LLC
  • Patrick G. Ryan, trustee; former chair of the Board of Trustees; chairman and CEO, Ryan Specialty Group, LLC
  • Michael Wilbon, trustee; professor of practice in the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications; ESPN columnist
  • Stephen R. Wilson, trustee; retired chair and CEO of CF Industries Holdings, Inc.

The committee will be staffed by Carol Chen, director of business and finance. Candidate nominations, thoughts and questions about the search can be shared with the committee via email at

Wildcat athletics

Under Phillips’ leadership, 10 of Northwestern’s athletic programs won conference or national championships, with the football team clinching the Big Ten West Division title twice in the last three seasons. Nine of Northwestern’s 15 all-time football bowl appearances have occurred with Phillips at the helm, as well as the school’s first appearance in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. In 2020, women’s basketball won the Big Ten championship for the first time in 30 years. Women’s lacrosse, winners of seven NCAA championships since 2005, advanced to the national semifinal in 2019. In addition, softball advanced to the NCAA tournament six times during the past decade, with a Super Regional appearance in 2019.

Over the last five years, Northwestern has invested more than $500 million in new and renovated facilities, supported by record fundraising success.

Academically, Wildcat student-athletes surpassed 200 Academic All-Big Ten honorees each of the last 10 years, including a record 288 honorees in 2019-20. Northwestern scored a 97% overall Graduation Success Rate in the latest data released by the NCAA, a figure which led all FBS schools for the third consecutive year, and has finished in the Top-4 all 16 years the metric has been released.

NU Recreation

NU Recreation provides a variety of fitness and sports activities to foster individual development, enrich campus life and engage the University community in positive lifestyle choices. Thousands of students participate each year in intramural sports, and the Sport Club program features extramural competition against other clubs, colleges and universities. Since 1939, Wildcat Sports Camp has been a Chicago tradition, offering multi-sports day camps for children. Facilities on the Evanston campus include Henry Crown Sports Pavilion, Norris Aquatics Center, Combe Tennis Center, Ryan Fieldhouse/Wilson Field, Lakeside Fields, Patten Gymnasium, Blomquist Recreation Center, Northwestern Beach and the Sailing Center on Lake Michigan.