Illinois drove Lovie Smith as football coach after Illini set a 17-39 record in the last five seasons

NCAA Football: Rutgers in Illinois

Illinois decided to move on from Lovie Smith by driving the coach on Sunday. Smith had just finished his fifth season as an Illini coach and was officially relieved of his duties by athletics director Josh Whitman.

Whitman said “a nationwide search to identify Coach Smith’s successor will begin immediately.” Smith is not coaching his last game of the season in Illinois.

Smith’s hiring didn’t turn out the way Illinois had hoped when he brought NFL long-term head coach and nine-year-old Chicago Bears headquarters to Champaign, Illinois, hoping to reverse the football program. Smith went 17-39 in five seasons, with a 10-33 difference in the Big Ten game, with just one bowl appearance, the Redbox Bowl’s 2019 defeat to 6-7 this season.

Illinois never finished with a winning Big Ten record in Smith’s five seasons and finished last two times in the Big Ten West division (2017, 2018).

Saturday’s 28-10 defeat at state rival Northwestern was probably the last straw, which disappointed Illinois fans as Smith couldn’t beat the Wildcats. The Illini series ’six-game losing streak began before the program took over. Pat Fitzgerald has lost only four times against Illinois since 2006, and three of those losses went to Ron Zook.

Illinois has expectations of where it wants to be vis-à-vis the other members of the Big Ten, but it’s hard to start meeting those expectations when you end up losing to your state rival. Now Illini begins his search for coaching, hoping to find the man who can turn his fortunes.