Lovie Smith will come out after five seasons as Illinois ’senior football coach, the school announced Sunday.
The Illinois team convened a team meeting on Sunday at noon to inform players of the decision. Fighting Illini fell 28-10 to the northwest 14th on Saturday to finish its regular season 2-5. Illinois are planning their eighth game this week on the Big Ten league weekend.
Smith, 62, went 17-39 (10-33 in the Big Ten) in Illinois in five seasons, his first stop in college football since 1995 when he trained defensive quarterback in Ohio. He had a long NFL career that included head coach stops for the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Smith led the Bears to a Super Bowl in 2006 and went 81-63 with the team.
Illinois sports director Josh Whitman hired Smith for weeks after his own 2016 winter recruitment. Smith led Illinois to the appearance of a bowl in 2019, and the team had high expectations this fall with the return of many key people.
“Lovie Smith has led the Illinois football program with unquestionable integrity during her nearly five years of service,” Whitman said in a statement. “I have great respect for Coach Smith and will always be grateful to him for giving a steady, experienced hand when our program demanded stability. His unwavering leadership, which was never needed more than during the pandemic, we will remember forever.
“Nevertheless, based on a comprehensive assessment of the current state and future prospects of the program, I have concluded that the program is not progressing at the pace we should expect at this advanced stage of Coach Smith’s term. I believe the football program is mandatory to achieve our competitive goals. I will always enjoy watching the time Lovie and I have spent together. I wish her and MaryAnne nothing but the best. “
Potential candidates in Illinois include Buffalo Lance Leipold, Army Jeff Monken, Kent State Sean Lewis, New York Giants Assistant, Bret Bielema (former coach in Wisconsin and Arkansas), Nevada Jay Norvell, Toledo Jason Candle, Tulane Willie Fritz and several coordinators, including Notre A Dame Defense Coordinator Clark Lea and Wisconsin Defense Coordinator Jim Leonhard.