Lovie Smith buzz booms after Illinois dumps football coach Bill Cubit – Chicago Tribune
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On his first official day on the job, Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman made a stunning move Saturday morning when he announced the firing of football coach Bill Cubit, and that almost immediately sparked buzz that former Bears coach Lovie Smith was in line to take Cubit’s place.
Two sources told the Tribune that former Bears coach Lovie Smith is a candidate for the position. Additional reports cited more sources claiming Smith is expected to be hired as the next coach.
Smith coached with the Bears from 2004-12 and led the team to three division titles and a Super Bowl appearance. The Buccaneers fired him as head coach after last season and he last coached in college 21 years ago as defensive backs coach for Ohio State.
Efforts to reach Smith for comment through his agent were unsuccessful.
Whitman, a former Illini football player, said the decision to fire Cubit was important for Illinois’ future.
“We’re striving for a standard of excellence,” Whitman said. “The goal for us is a championship standard. Today we took a big step in that direction.”
Whitman did not identify candidates but sounded like he would move quickly to hire a replacement. Spring football practice, which was to start March 11, was postponed until a new coach is named.
“Our hope is, (depending) how this process unfolds, to capture a lot of those weeks (of practice),” Whitman said. “We have a plan. We’re hopeful to be able to bring this to a conclusion as quickly as possible.”
Whitman said he sees the change as an important step in building a future for a program that has seen extensive turnover.
Since 2011, Illinois has had three athletic directors, two men’s basketball coaches, two women’s basketball coaches. It will be hiring its fourth football coach.
Cubit was named the interim coach on Aug. 28, just a week before the season after former athletic director Mike Thomas fired Tim Beckman following an investigation into claims of player mistreatment. Cubit led Illinois to a 5-7 overall record, 2-6 in the Big Ten.
Whitman said Cubit’s ties to Beckman’s tenure were not a factor in his dismissal. In the wake of the Beckman allegations, and similar charges involving other sports, Thomas was fired Nov. 9.
“For some people this might feel like another body blow in a series of body blows,” Whitman said. “We’ve had our challenges. I see it very differently. I see it as the first step of what we ultimately want to build. This is a question of perspective. This is the first very positive step toward developing that championship culture.”
Interim athletic director Paul Kowalczyk awarded Cubit an unconventional two-year contract extension, which Whitman said was a factor in his decision. The timing again is “non-traditional” as Whitman said.
“It really is about putting ourselves in position to develop that championship culture,” Whitman said.
He praised Cubit for bringing “continuity” to the program during a “tumultuous” time.
On Twitter, players criticized Whitman’s decision to inform the public before meeting with the team.
“Haven’t Even Been On Campus A Full Year & Have Had 2 Head Coaches,” running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn tweeted. “Now Going On Number 3.”
Whitman said he did not want news to leak before he had a chance to talk to Cubit directly. His first meeting with the players was to deliver the news shortly before an afternoon news conference.
Cubit will receive about $985,000 as part of a buyout. Cubit’s son Ryan, who served as offensive coordinator, also was dismissed. Other coaches on staff will be given the opportunity to interview for positions with the new coach, Whitman said.
Whitman said he was unsure if Illinois would use a search firm to locate the next coach.
Whitman, who played tight end at Illinois from 1997-2000, was announced as the Illinois athletic director on Feb. 17 out Division III Washington University in St. Louis.