Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman took a major step in elevating Fighting Illini football in the national landscape with the hiring of longtime NFL coach Lovie Smith as head football coach.
“I am extremely excited to be named head coach of the Fighting Illini,” Smith said. “Josh approached me about this possibility, and I immediately seized on the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the young men who are part of the program today and in the future. I take this responsibility very seriously and can’t wait to get a staff in place to start our move to make Illinois a contender for Big Ten titles. We will play an exciting brand of football that will make our fans, alumni, student body and members of the University community extremely proud.”
Smith becomes the 25th head football coach at Illinois. He is the second coach to move directly from head coach in the NFL to Champaign-Urbana after John Mackovic took the Illini head coaching position in 1988 following a career with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Naming Lovie Smith as the Illinois head football coach is the first step in taking this program to a place of national prominence,” Whitman said. “We will build a program that contends annually for Big Ten and national championships. The timing for this move was extremely tight, and we needed to move quickly. A coach of Lovie’s caliber would not have been available to us if we had waited until after the 2016 season. Lovie’s reputation as a coach, and even more so as a person, made it clear it was an awesome opportunity for the University of Illinois.”
Smith coached the Bears from 2004 to 2012. He coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers until fired he was fired at the end of last season.