University of Illinois Commentary: Lovie Smith deserves this chance


In perhaps the biggest move in program history, University of Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman introduced Lovie Smith as the new head football coach at a press conference Monday night.

In his introductory news conference, Smith preached success both in the classroom and on the football field as his goals for the program. According to Chicago Tribune writer Shannon Ryan, Illinois stretched its pocketbook in order to secure Lovie Smith as its new head coach.

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"He signed a six-year, $21 million contract with Illinois that will pay him $2 million annually in 2016 and 2017, $3 million in 2018, $4 million in 2019 and $5 million in 2020 and 2021. The deal also includes incentives tied to academic and athletic performance. —content created by Chicago Tribune writer Shannon Ryan"

The Fighting Illini football team hasn’t recorded a winning record in conference play since 2007 and hasn’t won the Big Ten since 2001. Since 2010, the program has recorded a 31-44 record.

Smith has been given an opportunity to put his stamp on a program that hasn’t been successful on the national level for years. It is an opportunity that he deserves, given the questionable circumstances for which he had been fired in his previous head coaching stints.

After all he has been through, is there any other coach that deserves this opportunity at redemption more than Lovie Smith?

Smith is best known among Illini fans as the former head coach of the Chicago Bears. The 57-year-old Texan spent nine seasons with the franchise and accumulated an 80-63 regular season record (56%) and a 3-3 postseason record. He led the Bears to the postseason three times, and made an appearance in the NFC championship game twice and the Super Bowl once.

Best known for his defensive coaching capabilities, the Chicago Bears were among the top five in the NFL in points against four times and yards against three times during his tenure as head coach. However, his time with the franchise came to an abrupt halt in 2012 when the front office fired him after a 10-6 season (didn’t make playoffs).

Smith’s head-coaching resume with the Chicago Bears isn’t typical of a coach who warranted losing his job. Nonetheless, despite his success, he never won a Super Bowl and he missed the playoffs in five of his last six seasons at the helm. The Bears decided to move on, and hired Canadian football league head coach Marc Trestman to replace him. Two disastrous seasons later during which the Bears accumulated a 13-19 record, Trestman met the same fate as Smith.

Jan 3, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith in the fourth quarter. The Panthers defeated the Buccaneers 38-10 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 3, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith in the fourth quarter. The Panthers defeated the Buccaneers 38-10 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

In Chicago, Smith was the victim of uncontrolled expectations: he knew how to win football games but never figured out how to turn the metaphorical corner and win a Super Bowl. He was a very good coach but not a great coach, and the Bears front office grew tired of continuing to give him chances to prove his championship merit. It was an unfortunate break for Smith, but soon after getting fired in 2012 he found new employment in the NFL as a head coach.

In 2014, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Lovie Smith as their new head coach. He inherited a 4-12 team and only managed to lead the Buccaneers to two wins in his first season as their head coach. In 2015, the Buccaneers showed improvement, winning six games with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston taking snaps behind center. In a somewhat premature move, the Buccaneers fired Smith after the 2016 season, robbing him of an opportunity to build upon the previous season.

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In an unexpected turn of events, Smith’s career trajectory now runs through Champaign, Illinois. The often underappreciated Smith deserves this opportunity to cement his head-coaching legacy and prove to his doubters his merit as a head football coach. .

Always known as a people person, Smith now must mentor a group of young men who already exalt him as a hero due to his recognizable past as a successful NFL head coach. Smith deserves this opportunity because he believes it’s his calling in life to mentor young men.

"During my time in Tampa. I had a chance to reflect on a lot of things — what I really liked about my life and what I’ve been able to do. One of them is being a teacher of young men and trying to mentor them and make them better people and hope they get something else along the way.—-Quote obtained by Chicago Tribune writer Shannon Ryan"

Smith deserves another chance because he is one of the nice guys in football and knows how to treat people right. As a head coach in the NFL, he commanded respect and got players to buy into his vision without an overbearing personality.

"When he walked into a room, he commanded attention. All eyes went to him. He wasn’t a loud, flashy, overly exuberant guy. He was just very cool and calm and so obviously confident.— Charles Tillman on Lovie Smith quote obtained by Chicago Tribune reporter Dan Wiederer"

Its going to be an uphill battle for Smith in Champaign, but the Illini couldn’t have picked a better candidate to lead this program. Smith’s personality caters towards collegiate athletes because of his ability to connect with people, teach and mentor. If he could command the respect of professional athletes, he should be able to do the same thing with a group of starry-eyed, 18-22 year olds.

Smith’s inability to win a Super Bowl has clouded his legacy. Both the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired a good coach for questionable reasons. Smith’s new beginning at Illinois is a story of redemption; one man’s efforts to leave behind a difficult professional past and write a better future for himself.

Next: Lovie Smith new coach for Illini football

If it was any other program besides the University of Illinois, I would probably be rooting for him to succeed.