When newly appointed athletic director Josh Whitman announced the hire of former Bucs and Bears head coach Lovie Smith at Illinois back in 2016, I was among the many out there that applauded the hire.
But seven games into his fifth season, after a 2-5 start, it was clear that Lovie’s approach in college wasn’t yielding the results that were expected in Champaign.
Smith won 81 games in nine seasons leading the Bears, but you can’t argue that some coaches are tailor made for the college game, while others have a style better suited for the NFL. Likewise, some coaches are better than others at adapting their schemes to their players, instead of the other way around.
Now back in the NFL as the defensive coordinator for David Culley and the Texans, Lovie reflected back on his time in college football leading the Illini at a presser today and noted how defenses at the college and pro level are built dramatically different.
“I think when I initially left the NFL and went to college, it was probably more adjustments we had to make then. The college game, it’s a lot more quarterback-run-dominated offenses. I think our system, and everybody has a system, you tweak it from year to year. But I don’t think we’ll have to adjust ours that much.”
You could say he learned that lesson the hard way at Illinois, noting he didn’t feel like they weren’t able to install their entire system there.
“In college we weren’t able to run our entire system. Most of the time offenses go three receivers, we kept our base defense on the field.”
“We didn’t play our nickel packages much. So I think our defense is more suited for the NFL game and we’ll make the tweaks and things like that.”
Taking in what Lovie has to share, it’s interesting that offensive guys coming from the NFL to the college level seem to have had more success than defensive guys, with guys like Joe Brady igniting a movement of young NFL coaches and support staff leaving for coordinator roles at the college level with guys like Jake Peetz and DJ Mangas (LSU) and David Raih (Vanderbilt) coming to mind.
Could you make the argument that when it comes to going from the NFL to college that offensive coaches are more open minded and flexible with schemes and concepts than their defensive counterparts? That may be something worth looking into for us…
Hear more from Lovie in the clip.