Illinois hires Lovie Smith as next football coach – Chicago Tribune
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A Twitter photo can say it all.
Smith agreed to a six-year deal with payments of $2 million annually for 2016 and 2017, $3 million for 2018, $4 million for 2019 and $5 million annually for both 2020 and 2021. He will have opportunities to earn more through incentive bonuses.
His appointment will be presented to the board of trustees for approval on March 16.
“I am extremely excited to be named head coach of the Fighting Illini,” Smith said in a statement released by the university Monday morning. “Josh approached me about this possibility, and I immediately seized on the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the young men who are part of the program today and in the future. I take this responsibility very seriously and can’t wait to get a staff in place to start our move to make Illinois a contender for Big Ten titles. We will play an exciting brand of football that will make our fans, alumni, student body and members of the University community extremely proud.”
Whitman said this is the first step in bringing the team to “national prominence.”
“We will build a program that contends annually for Big Ten and national championships,” Whitman said in a statement. “The timing for this move was extremely tight, and we needed to move quickly. A coach of Lovie’s caliber would not have been available to us if we had waited until after the 2016 season. Lovie’s reputation as a coach, and even more so as a person, made it clear it was an awesome opportunity for the University of Illinois.”
Illinois will introduce Smith at a 2 p.m. press conference today.
Smith would be among the most high-profile hires Illinois has ever made. Smith coached the Bears from 2004 until he was fired in 2012, leading the team to three division titles and a Super Bowl appearance.
He most recently was fired after coaching the Buccaneers from 2014-15.
Smith last coached in college in 1995 as Ohio State‘s defensive backs coach. He rose through the college ranks, starting in 1983 at Tulsa and made stops at Wisconsin, Arizona State, Kentucky, Tennessee and with the Buckeyes.
He has coached in the NFL since 1996.
Illinois is eager to enhance its reputation on and off the field after losing seasons and coaching scandals.
Whitman made a surprise move on his first official day on the job by firing head football coach Bill Cubit. Cubit was promoted to interim head coach a week before the season started to take over for Tim Beckman and was hired with a two-year contract before the season finale against Northwestern.
Smith also has offset language in his Buccaneers contract, a source said. The Bucs owe Smith $10 million over the next two years but are obligated to pay only the difference in salaries if he takes another job, reducing the chance negotiations would hit a snag over money.
Salaries for assistant coaches were a point of discussion in Sunday’s meeting between Whitman and Smith in Tampa.
The university will pay Cubit $985,000 as part of a buyout and also owe fired athletic director Mike Thomas $2.5 million for the remainder of his contract, which ran through 2019.