Illinois Invests in Lovie Smith…Here’s Why.

Illinois Director of Athletics, Josh Whitman is going “all in” on his commitment to Head Football Coach, Lovie Smith. Whitman signed-off on a two-year extension to Smith’s contract.

Whitman essentially added two years on to Smith’s original six-year deal. That means Smith will be the Head Coach through the 2023 season. The deal comes a day after the Illini lost to Big Ten Conference rival Northwestern, 24-16. Smith’s Illini gave up 473 points all season. On three separate occasions, (vs. Penn State, Maryland and Iowa) the Illini gave up 63 points in a game. We should also note that the Illini parted ways with Defensive Coordinator Hardy Nickerson after the loss to Maryland. Nickerson stated he was resigning for health reasons. The young defensive unit gave up 40 or more points in 5 games during the 2018 season.

From the moment Whitman made the signing of Smith’s extension public on Sunday, he told fans and media in a news release he’s looking toward the future and keeping recruits interested in the program. “This extension demonstrates my belief in Lovie Smith, his staff, and the plan they have for the future success of Illinois Football. I have studied our program extensively, and I see steady progress, both in the development of our current players and the talent we are adding to our roster. To date, we have remained one of the youngest teams in college football, with only nine seniors and nearly 80 freshmen and sophomores. As our players grow in strength, skill, and experience, more wins will follow.”

The Illinois fan base may not be happy with the long-term decision at this moment. But consider the following: If the school was to fire Smith on November 25th, 2018–The University of Illinois would owe him $12 million dollars to NOT coach.  That number would drop to $4 million dollars (owed to Smith) after February 1, 2019. That is typically not an ideal time to find a big-name coach who will take Illinois places Smith has tried. He was hired in March 2016 after Whitman was named Athletic Director and fired Interim Head Coach Bill Cubit.  Smith’s original contract was built with incentives for the school to keep him at least 4 years. Now Whitman’s trust in Smith ensures Smith has enough time to build a program.  Smith’s overall record is 9-27 at Illinois.

Whitman’s news release shows he knows what Illini fans are thinking. “We recognize that our work is far from finished, with improvement needed in every phase of our program’s development, but our plan is sound and our resolve is stronger than ever. As I have said on many occasions, stability and continuity are key to building a foundation that will yield long-term success.”

As for just how much money Illinois will be paying Lovie Smith in the long-run is still a mystery. He made $5 million dollars in 2018. We will not know the concrete details of the contract extension until it is finalized by the Illinois Board of Trustees in January.

Speaking of concrete…the U of I’s new football complex, The Smith Football Center will have all concrete poured and ready to go before the summer is over. The new facility should be a place that sells itself to potential recruits. The complex will house football offices, weight and condition training, meeting rooms for players and coaches, recruiting facilities, practice field access and a showcase for Illini players who have made it to the NFL.

Football complexes don’t always mean Championships will come but they do make programs like Illinois, more attractive. Keep this in mind too, when Whitman took the job at as Director of Athletics, he had one thing in mind: Winning. He knew it would take an investment and it would take longer than most fans have the patience for in modern day college football. Most of his social media messages come with the hashtag #WeWillWin. Time will tell. History will be the judge. 2023 looks like a good time to see how Whitman’s investment in Illinois Football–a team he played for–pays off.

–Patrick Quinn

More: Thorson helps No. 20 Northwestern beats Illinois 24-16