It was fun while it lasted, but the Lovie Smith era of the Illinois Fighting Illini is now over. The former Chicago Bears head coach was ousted today after finishing the regular season with a 2-5 record.
Illinois hired Smith in 2016 to a six-year, $21 million contract. Given the success he had at the NFL level, in the state of Illinois no less, there was a ton of hype and the university quickly sold thousands of tickets.
But Smith’s success at the NFL level just didn’t translate to the struggling Illinois football program. He went just 9-27 in his first three years before finally leading the Illini to bowl eligibility in 2019.
Unfortunately, Smith’s team fell back down to earth in 2020, starting 0-3 before back-to-back wins over Rutgers and Nebraska. They finished the season with losses to Iowa and in-state rival Northwestern.
On social media, some Illinois fans are lamenting losing a coach who they felt gave it his all.
It didn’t work out, which stinks, but watching Lovie Smith the last five years gave me a new respect and appreciation for the man himself. He represented the school I love with integrity and genuine care for his players’ well-beings and futures. Nothing but good feelings for him.
— Will Leitch (@williamfleitch) December 13, 2020
It is a bittersweet day as an Illinois football fan. Lovie Smith clearly didn’t get the job done and it was time to move on, but I really believe Lovie put his heart into the University and was a great representative of the football program. I wish Lovie Smith the best! pic.twitter.com/3WrurJ3hUX
— Evan Webb (@webb_evan12) December 13, 2020
Others feel that Smith’s failures are a sign that Illinois will have a big problem getting out of its rut.
If Lovie Smith can’t make Illinois Football relevant, nobody can.
— Jeff (@JeffBartlett85) December 13, 2020
I’ve said it before. I like Lovie Smith a lot. I will fondly remember his days with the Bears. But even for a program like Illinois, there were very few positive signs of program growth aside from one 6-win season. Damn shame it didn’t work out in the long run
— Jobin (@jobin_theman) December 13, 2020
Lovie Smith leaves Illinois with a 17-39 overall record and was 10-33 in the Big Ten.
He’ll be turning 63 before next season but could have one last NFL run left in him. Smith remains a well-respected defensive mind, and could get in line for a job in college or the NFL if he’s still interested.
As for Illinois, they’re going to need to cast a wide net to find a head coach who can succeed where Lovie Smith failed. We’ve seen with Northwestern and Indiana that the right head coach can turn a perennially struggling Big Ten program around.
Who do you think should replace Lovie Smith at Illinois?
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