This Week's Obsession: Illinoising

Submitted by Seth on March 10th, 2016 at 12:00 PM

In case the Big Ten Tournament isn't entertaining you right now…

The question:

Lovie Smith is the best Illinois football hire since…

Brian: I have no idea. I don't know who Illinois hires or does not hire.

Seth: /giphy zook

global.slack-imgs

all orange and blue teams are the same.
/giphy thatsracist

BiSB: Maybe just "Did Illinois do a good or bad?"

Seth: Did giphy do a good or bad?

Brian: I'm assuming a bad because Illinois.

BiSB: Giphy did a zook.

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Brian: But on the other hand, it seems kind of good?

I mean, Bill Cubit had a two year deal. He was already a lame duck. Maybe better to just pull the ripcord right now and get a head start on the Whoever's Next era. And, I mean, Lovie Smith was an NFL head coach for almost a decade. I'm not sure he'll do great, but amongst football coaches who would take the Illinois job in March he's got to be at the top of the list.

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Adam: Probably can't be worse than this:

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[After the JUMP we take Illinois seriously.]

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Ace:

screen_shot_2016-03-07_at_2.37.40_pm_1024

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[Or not]

Seth:

"When Harry Met Sally" teaches us that when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you need to drop what you're doing and run across Manhattan on New Year's Eve to confess your love for a friend who slept with you one time when she was highly emotional about her ex.

If she's The One for you this qualifies as romantic. In the extraordinarily more likely scenario that she just finds this creepy, well, it's pretty creepy. Apparently Lovie found it endearing, but did Illinois drop Cubit RIGHT NOW RIGHT THIS SECOND because it was their chance to get Meg Ryan?

I could see it for P.J. Fleck, who's low enough on his career arc that Illinois would be a good career move still, and who just happens to be extremely qualified to coach an academically minded Big Ten program in Central Illinois.

If we're going to limit the scope to "what should the new AD who just took over a day before spring practice starts?" there's some sense in starting the rest of your life as soon as possible. But that's too big of a caveat to fit, like, reason. Why didn't Illinois put an AD in place, you know, BEFORE three minutes to midnight? And why are you still going through with the wedding when Meg Ryan is like "eww, no" and the only person at the ball who'd kiss you might be okay because the 2005 Bears won stuff with Rex Grossman? And why am I beating a chick flick analogy beyond comprehension? Because Illinois.

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David:  Looking back through the Illinois coaching history was depressing.

Coach Years Big Ten Overall
Gary Moeller 1977-1979 3-18-3 6-24-3
Mike White 1980-1987 40-26-2 47-41-3
John Mackovic 1988-1991 22-9-1 30-16-1
Lou Tepper 1991-1996 17-21-2 25-31-2
Ron Turner 1997-2004 20-44-0 35-57-0
Ron Zook 2005-2011 18-38-0 34-51-0
Vic Koenning 2011(i) 0-0-0 1-0-0
Tim Beckman 2012-2014 4-20-0 12-25-0
Bill Cubit 2015(i) 2-5-0 5-6-0

I first thought about Ron Zook, who did guide them to a Rose Bowl (despite being constantly ripped for punting from inside FG range) but he was 34-51 (18-38). I did not realize he was THAT bad.

Then, I remembered Ron Turner took them to a Sugar Bowl back in 1999. Turner was even worse, 35-57 (20-44). It turns out that the last non-interim coach to go .500+ was John Mackovic who was Illinois's coach from '88-'91, where he compiled a 30-16-1 (22-9-1) record, reaching a bowl game in each season AND a Big Ten Title. Mackovic went on to take the Texas job and have a semi-successful tenure. So, it has been 28 years since Illinois has made a good football hire...

I think the Lovie Smith hire would actually be pretty solid for Illinois. He went 81-63 (3-3 in the postseason, including a Super Bowl) in 9 years with the Bears and only finished sub .500 3 times. He also tripled Tampa's win total between his first and second years there (2 to 6). Lovie has generally had very good defenses wherever he's gone. Plus, is he not the best coach in the B10 West by default? Maybe Ferentz/Fitzgerald...
Now, just go get Mike Martz as your OC...

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Ace: I’m glad I waited to answer this, since I said when Illinois hired Smith that a lot would hinge on his OC hire. I’ll start this by saying the Illini did the best they reasonably could under the circumstances; Smith, who should help both the defense and recruiting from the get-go, is a far better coach than most languishing on the open market in early March.

We’ll see how it goes now that he’s hired Garrick McGee as his OC. McGee is a well-regarded, in-demand coach—he turned down the Oklahoma OC job last year. He’s also coming off a two-year stint at Louisville in which he didn’t call all the plays—Bobby Petrino handled much of the offense—and the offense dropped off substantially from the Teddy Bridgewater era.

Smith would be a decent, not overwhelming, hire in a normal offseason. Under the circumstances, Illinois did about as well as they could.

Comments

Wolfman

March 11th, 2016 at 5:36 AM ^

as pointed out by OP as an area of concern if they showed him the love. I mean a decent salary is a starting place, but they should do like Michigan did with Harbaugh, the second time, the successful run.

Brandon contacted Harbaugh, in 2011, as the majority of us are aware and in such a manner Jim could tell was perfunctory at best. When Jim turned him down, Brandon was free to continue with his experiment. Fucker. That pain could have ended 4 years earlier. As Jim said at the time, "Wasn't feeling the love." A plan consisting of an abbreviated phone call by an uproven AD will cause that effect.

Although Hackett was instrumental, it took a gathering of people to formulate the plan and show him the love they did. They called upon some of the best known players of the modern era, all players that Jim respected, and in many cases, admired, all expressing the same desire but they reached out to him and in their own individual way, let him know how much he was wanted. I'm talking Leach, Billy Taylor, Jansen, the two Heisman winners. They even included Brady's college friend, a dishwasher during Brady's years in A.A., still one of Tom's closest friends to ask how best to approach Tom. He said, No. 1, "I can't contact him after a loss. He is the worst loser I know, expect for me."  Next week N.E. lost to G,.B. so he waited until the following week after a victory over San Diego and contacted Tom, who followed up with a phone call to Jim that lasted over an hour. Sarah said it was obvious Jim was moved by these former greats reaching out to him to let him know how much he was truly wanted.

I know many of you are aware of  the above as well and the differences. Lovey is not a UI grad and they already have him on board. But if they believe he is their man and they have actually decided on a very real mission of turning IL around, they should develop a plan, complete with all the perks, of course, but a collective showing by " I want to say former UI greats, but other than Butkus, am unsure how many that would total." those who do fit this description, along with influential UI alum to contact him, let him know they will do whatever they are able to to help him in rebuilding - Hell, building a program, allow him the money to  hire the assistants he wants and I am certain his network is large and he could pull in some top notch assistants.

As many have said, I think his NFL experience, knowledge of the area, and genuinely being a hell of a nice man, wil play well with recruits. We've learned what it takes, and it's obvious the two jobs cannot be looked at in the same manner. For that reason, they might have to do a little more convincing, but only if they have made that decision to do more than field a team, and he is the one they believe can accomplish this. If such is the case, take a lesson from the UM seduction of Harbaugh and do your best imitation. Eliminate the concern of losing him by making him fully aware this will be his best offer as a football coach.

Know who you are, know your level of commitment and regardless if its Lovey or someone else you think can return you to a level that you will not only be respected as a good program but one that is capable of competing with the best - Chicago is a damn large area to begin with as talent- you know what it takes. Make it happen. Whether you do or don't will actually show if the desire for improvement is there. You can end the doubt now.

wile_e8

March 10th, 2016 at 12:27 PM ^

The circumstances around it are weird, but I like the move because at least one of the second-tier B1G programs is finally taking that BTN money and trying. This is 100x better than taking yet another MAC coach with a couple decent seasons and trying to tell everyone this guy is the one that will be the next Urban Meyer. This is something a lower-tier SEC program would do to try to make a splash and move up in the world. 

Which means it probably won't work out, because apparently no coach ever works out at Illinois. But if every B1G team went after big names like this, most of them would work out and the whole conference would be better off.

Rabbit21

March 10th, 2016 at 1:03 PM ^

Anyone else see that Hecklinski is on the staff as Tight Ends/Special Teams Coach?   Wonder if that means Roundtree is on the bench for a possible opening there later?

bronxblue

March 10th, 2016 at 1:11 PM ^

One thing that bugs me is when you hear schools like Illinois and (especially) Purdue argue the reason they aren't better at X is because they are academically minded. Of course, lots of "better" schools sure seem to get by fine while maintaining academic integrity. I think this is a good pick for Illinois if Smith can get some good recruiters on his staff, but the fact Ilinois has been a hot mess for years now still amazes me.

AC1997

March 10th, 2016 at 1:23 PM ^

If you think of Illinois Football as the tire fire it has become, then this has to rank as a solid hire at least in the short term.  Smith is a middle-of-the-road NFL coach who's players tended to love him and who was solid throughout his career.  He brings an identity to the program as a D-first guy, who is a players' coach, who is a minority in a sport that should have more of them coaching, and he has had success.  He's also from the area and people in Chicago generally liked him.  

The concern I would have is that I'm not sure he's drawn to a long-term college job like Harbaugh and might jump to the NFL at the first chance.  He also needs a good OC.

Harperbole

March 10th, 2016 at 1:49 PM ^

The B1G West is up for grabs. They can't get a good college coach, because right now they're Illinois. If they can grab a respected, if not uburly successful NFL coach who can make them NOT Illinios for a few years they could take a weak division and change perspective somewhat.

Yinka Double Dare

March 10th, 2016 at 3:07 PM ^

They gave Lovie an assistant budget that was apparently third in the B1G behind OSU and Michigan. About damn time one of the other programs starts spending the money required to compete.

I don't know if he'll win big at Illinois, but what Illinois needs to do first is to matter again at all, get some respectability. That I think Lovie can do. I think he'll actually be a pretty good recruiter, he's certainly beloved by his players. They need some sort of draw, a splash, to get back in the recruiting game, and this is a reasonable one. May as well take the chance - they already suck. And it's definitely got the backing of the boosters and grabbed interest of some of the fans who lost interest.

I also don't think Lovie will be heading back to the NFL. He's in his late 50s, and just got unexpectedly tossed by a NFL team. This seems likely to be his last stop.

I dumped the Dope

March 10th, 2016 at 3:25 PM ^

I invoke the "simple economics" principle, that they probably had to spend more to get someone with that resume.

Leaving less for assistants.

I can't believe a ticket can sell more more than about $5, I think I've seen them for $1 on the hub the one time I looked in the last 2 seasons.

The only way out i see is to start up a dynamic shift in their spending and hope the investment leads to success.  See also, the ability to sniff out 2 stars with 4+ potential.

 

Horseface

March 10th, 2016 at 4:56 PM ^

Mackovic was a slight improvement over the coach he replaced at Texas, but he seems to be primarily remembered for losing to Rice for the first time since the Johnson administration and getting hamblasted 66-3 by UCLA. Seems like everyone is able to have one good season at Illinois and then a bunch of mediocrity. 

LDNfan

March 11th, 2016 at 1:50 AM ^

Slam dunk hire....for Illinois. I don't see any downsides to this one...locally respected guy, pro experience with some success...african american who is known as a players coach and should be able to recruit his backyard well (Chicago has some talent). And they are in the West which is wide open.

Good for them....he'll have to take his lumps when they get to AA this year but at least there will be a storyline to draw a bit of national interests in a game that wouldn't otherwise draw even much local interests. 

DoubleB

March 11th, 2016 at 12:04 PM ^

And the risk is probably greater.

Name the list of pro coaches who have stepped into the college game and had really good success. It starts and ends with Pete Carroll--who as it turned out is a really good coach period.

I like how everyone assumes he'll be a good recruiter when he hasn't stepped foot in a high school in 20+ years. He doesn't need an OC. He needs to hire a bunch of guys who can recruit. My guess is he'll hire a mostly pro staff who will jump back to the pros at the first opportunity (and he might do the same as well).

That being said, IF he's serious about the job he does bring something probably no other candidate can bring to the table--Chicago. His name there alone should get him into doors and homes no other coach has been able to crack in forever.