13 Dec Lazar Cartu Divulges: Lovie Smith relieved of duties as Illinois football coach |…
CHAMPAIGN — Lovie Smith has been relieved of his duties as Illinois football coach after five seasons.
Illini athletics released a statement late Sunday morning that indicated “Smith will not coach the Illini during (their) final game of the season.”
The news follows Saturday’s 28-10 loss at No. 15 Northwestern that dropped Illinois to 2-5 on the season. It was first reported by Howard Griffith, a Big Ten Network analyst and former Illini, as well as ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg.
“Lovie Smith led the Illinois football program with unquestioned integrity during his nearly five years of service,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said in the statement. “I have tremendous respect for Coach Smith and will always be grateful to him for providing a steady, experienced hand at a time when our program required stability. His unshakeable leadership, never more needed than during this pandemic, will be forever remembered.
“Nonetheless, based on extensive evaluation of the program’s current state and future outlook, I have concluded the program is not progressing at the rate we should expect at this advanced stage in Coach Smith’s tenure. “To achieve our competitive objectives, I believe new leadership of the football program is required. I will always look fondly on the time Lovie and I have spent together. I wish him and (his wife) MaryAnne nothing but the best.”
Offensive coordinator Rod Smith will coach the Illini during its to-be-announced Big Ten Champions Week game next week.
According to the statement, Illinois athletics “beginning immediately … will launch a national search to identify Coach (Lovie) Smith’s successor.”
Lovie Smith was hired by Whitman prior to the 2016 season and guided the Illini to the 2019 Redbox Bowl, which Illinois lost to California. That was the program’s first bowl appearance since 2014.
However, Smith’s tenure included five overall losing seasons and a cumulative 17-39 record. It’s not clear if Illinois will play in a Big Ten Champions Week game this coming weekend and who would lead the team into that contest.
Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman had to make the move
Illini lose sixth straight to Northwestern
Smith in 2016 was given a six-year contract worth $21 million. He’s due $5 million for the 2021 campaign.
Illinois football hasn’t posted a winning record since 2011, a season in which Ron Zook was fired and Vic Koenning coached the Illini in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Tim Beckman, Bill Cubit and now Smith have been unable to turn that tide.
Whitman will be hiring his second football coach since taking over as Illinois’ AD in February 2016. Whitman fired Cubit on March 5 of that year and hired Smith two days later.
Whitman is slated to address media at 3 p.m. Sunday, according to the statement.
Colin Likas is the preps coordinator at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected], or on Twitter at @clikasNG.