Update: Guess this is official. It's a six-year, $21 million deal, the Illini say. Our Illinois blog is happy.
#WEWILLWIN pic.twitter.com/eIC379IiyD— Josh Whitman (@IlliniAD) March 7, 2016
Original: Former NFC champion head coach Lovie Smith is apparently the favorite to replace Bill Cubit after Illinois' surprising move to make a coaching change in March. Smith went 81-63 with the Chicago Bears, then improved the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2-14 to 6-10 before being fired after two seasons.
Early in process and situation fluid but 2 NFL sources in past hour texted to say they've heard Lovie Smith will be candidate at Illinois.— David Haugh (@DavidHaugh) March 5, 2016
Some credible sources are telling me Lovie Smith will be the next #Illini head football coach. @cbschicago— Ryan Baker (@RyanBakerMedia) March 5, 2016
What I can report at this time on Lovie Smith and the Illinois job: There have been talks between the two. Nothing finalized.— JennaLaineBucs (@JennaLaineBucs) March 5, 2016
FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman reports Smith is "expected to become the next Illini head coach," with former Illinois head coach Ron Turner being the link between new Illini AD Josh Whitman and Smith. Feldman also reports Smith would be interested in bringing his sons with him on staff. Mikal Smith was a Bucs safeties coach.
The 2005 NFL coach of the year and three-time NFC North champion seems to remain a popular name in the area. His last three Bears teams went 29-19 in the regular season, and Chicago's record since his firing is 19-29.
There'd be a lot to like about Smith, assuming he'd bring in a coaching staff that could produce better offenses than his NFL teams tended to feature. In 11 years, only two of his teams' offenses ranked in the NFL's upper half in yardage. Defense wouldn't be much of a worry, though, and the off-field benefits would be considerable.
Hiring Lovie Smith would add relevancy, get Chicago interested again, and give Illinois their first black head coach. That's a lot of boxes.— U-God (@SBN_UGod) March 5, 2016
Other than that, the big concern would be his experience at the college level. It's broader than you might expect, with consistent advancement as a position coach from 1983 at Tulsa to 1995 at Ohio State, but that was a long time ago.
Talked to a former Illini player about the possibility of this just now: "That would be awesome." https://t.co/DKI8PsbLBn— JennaLaineBucs (@JennaLaineBucs) March 5, 2016
For those asking if Lovie Smith can relate to college kids...he listens to rap, adores Chuck Taylors, has a strong relationship with Jameis.— JennaLaineBucs (@JennaLaineBucs) March 5, 2016
You're lying to yourself if you don't think Lovie would have an easier time recruiting Chicagoland than any Illini FB coach in a decade.— U-God (@SBN_UGod) March 5, 2016
If not Smith, the most frequently chattered-about names seem to be Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck, an Illinois native, and Youngstown State's Bo Pelini, a Big Ten veteran. But it sounds like Illini fans have already got their hearts set on Smith.
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