All it took was a few pictures from new athletic director Josh Whitman's Twitter account to make things official this morning: Lovie Smith is in Champaign to lead the Illini.
On Saturday, Whitman's first official day on the job in Champaign, he let go Bill Cubit and shortly thereafter the rumors of landing Lovie, the former NFL head coach, were buzzing big time in Big Ten country for the rest of the weekend.
Lovie went 81-63 leading the Chicago Bears from 2004-2012 and that run included a trip to the Super Bowl (a loss to the Indianapolis Colts in 2006) as well as two other trips to the playoffs. But in 2012, after a 10-6 season, Lovie was let go in Chicago. After taking the 2014 season away from the sidelines, Lovie was hired to lead the Tampa Bay franchise in 2014. He went 2-14 in his first season, and this past year the Bucs improved to 6-10, but ownership didn't see enough improvement and decided to make a change.
That move made Lovie, a recognized national name in the coaching profession, and a highly respected coach in Illinois from his time with the Bears, available. That proved to be an opportunity that Whitman simply couldn't let pass him by.
In Lovie Smith, Illinois is getting a proven coach that has won at the highest level, led a storied NFL franchise (within Illinois borders) to a Super Bowl and recorded double digit wins in the league four times. The last time Smith coached at the college level was 1995 with the defensive backs at Ohio State, and while recruiting has certainly changed a ton since that time, Lovie will be prepared.
For years, many Illinois fans have felt that they needed to recruit Chicago better in order to compete in the Big Ten, and now they should be able to rest easy because there is no more recognized name in the Chicagoland area than Lovie Smith.
Stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.