Illinois is a program that I could get excited about with Lovie Smith as the new head coach.
I wrote about Lovie Smith when he was a dominating high school football player in a small town in Texas: domination
He was a good college player at Tulsa and then he was a quality NFL head coach. I don’t necessarily agree with his being fired in Chicago, or Tampa Bay, but what’s bad for the NFL might be great for college football.
But, this story had an odd way of happening.
Illinois fired their previous head coach, Tim Beckman, right before the 2015 season started. He was accused of abusing players.
They named Bill Cubit interim coach for the 2015 season. Then, after jumping out to a 4-1 start, the Illini finished poorly losing 6 out of their last 7 games. Cubit led the team to an unimpressive 5-7, but they took the interim tag off of his name and retained him as head coach. Cubit recruited and signed the 2016 class.
Then, in March, the Illini hired new Athletic Director Josh Whitman and he fired Bill Cubit during his first day of his new job.
There’s a whole lot more to it than what I have written and I really don’t want to write about what happened. What interests me is the hiring of Lovie Smith.
Smith has not worked as a college coach since 1995 when he was the Defensive Backs coach at Ohio State.
We don’t know what kind of recruiter Lovie Smith will be. Generally, a new college coach would have the opportunity to throw his staff together and hit the road recruiting in December and have the chance to hit the road recruiting. But, Smith didn’t have that opportunity. He will have to make the best out of a 71st rated recruiting class that Bill Cubit’s staff proudly signed.
But, Lovie Smith’s name is known in Chicago and still carries a lot of weight there.
Out of the top 40 recruits in the state of Illinois last season, the Illini signed 3 of them. Michigan State signed 5 out of the top 20 recruits and Illinois signed none of them. That’s got to change and in a hurry if Lovie Smith hopes to win.
His hope should be to sign the best from the Chicago area and to bring in some kids from Florida, Texas and California.
Smith hired Louisville Offensive Coordinator Garrick McGee to be his new Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks coach.
From the San Francisco 49ers, he hired Hardy Nickerson as his Defensive Coordinator. Hopefully, this will open up some recruiting doors in Northern California.
From the Houston Texans, Smith hired Special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky to become his Special teams and Tight Ends coach.
Luke Butkus was the assistant Offensive Line coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars. At Illinois, he will now be the Offensive Line coach without the ‘assistant’ in front of it. Can you imagine the recruiting opportunities in the Chicago area if your name is Butkus?
Andrew Hayes-Stoker is the new Wide Receivers coach after being on the staff with the Indianoplis Colts.
Thad Ward was hired from Northern Illinois and is the new Running Backs coach.
Mike Phair was the last Defensive Coordinator at Illinois. He was retained by Lovie Smith but he was switched over to be his Defensive Line coach.
Tim McGarigle is the new Linebackers coach.
Paul Williams was the Miami Defensive Backs coach and will be the same at Illinois. Hopefully, he will have south Florida connections.
But, the Fighting Illini will need more than just recruiting. When Florida fired Ron Zook and hired
Urban Meyer, Illinois quickly hired him. Ron Zook can recruit about as well as anyone in the nation. He even took the Fighting Illini to the Rose Bowl in the 2007 season. But, that was his only good season and he finished with a 34-51 in 7 seasons at Illinois.
Needless to say the Illini needs talent as well as good coaching.
Will Lovie Smith be that guy?
I hope so. College football needs good teams across the country and not just in the South.
I will be pulling for him.