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Illinois announces hire of head coach Lovie Smith via photo

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The former Bears and Bucs coach hasn't worked at the college level in a couple decades, but he's won a bunch of games in this state.

Update: Guess this is official. It's a six-year, $21 million deal, the Illini say. Our Illinois blog is happy.

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.

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.

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.

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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