When Illinois fired Bill Cubit on Saturday, days before the start of the team’s spring practices, it was a shock to him and the college football world.
With the subsequent hiring of Lovie Smith — a move that brought in more than 1,400 new season ticket sales in a single day — Cubit’s exit has become afterthought.
The 62-year-old Cubit has every right to be angry — livid, even — about what went down in Champaign, but he’s decided he isn’t going to burn any bridges after losing the biggest job he’s ever been hired for without having coached a game.
“I’m not going to wallow in sorrow or self-pity,” Cubit told the Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday. “There has been a lot of negativity, and I swore I would not be negative. I swore that I’d be positive, even if things go against me. I don’t want to waste a minute of my life being negative now. Life is too short.”
Cubit coached Illinois’ entire 2015 schedule with an interim tag after the school fired Tim Beckman for allegedly interfering in medical decisions and pressuring players to play injured. Beckman denies the allegations.
The Illini went 5-7 under Cubit, and the belief was that the school would move on from the former Western Michigan head coach in the offseason. Instead Illinois removed Cubit’s interim tag and awarded him a two-year contract.
Cubit’s two-year deal was described by then-interim athletic director Paul Kowalczyk as “not ideal.”
Illinois hired Josh Whitman as athletic director on Feb. 16. A few weeks later, without advance warning, Cubit was out. Smith was almost instantaneously hired. It was a quick swap.
Cubit told the Sun-Times he’s focusing his concern towards the members of his staff who will likely not be retained by Smith, who has a $4 million war chest for assistant coaches, saying: “Those guys put their faith in me.”
The college coaching profession is a messy one, but the diabolical situation at Illinois took what would normally be a bad scenario (one coach being fired and replaced by another) and turned it nuclear.
Whitman was right to make a swift move and start his regime with a clean slate, and while there are concerns that Smith will have trouble adjusting to a college gig, there’s no question that the move is already considered a hit with boosters.
But while many are celebrating the possible turnaround of Illinois football, it’s hard to see anything but the collateral damage.
Cubit is highly unlikely to get another Power Five head coaching job, and his soon-to-be-fired assistants are unlikely to catch on with another college team this year. Illinois football, even in a moment of positivity, still found a way to still be super depressing.