The University of Illinois made a stunning move on Saturday when new Athletic Director Josh Whitman fired football coach Bill Cubit, but the school could be just getting started on making eye-popping decisions.
According to numerous reporters, including Greg Gabriel of the National Football Post, Ryan Baker of CBS Chicago, and Jenna Laine of Sports Talk 1040 in Tampa, the Fighting Illini are making strides toward naming former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith to the same position at the school.
The move is a complete stunner from the university, which gave Cubit a two-year contract extension at the end of the 2015 season. Whitman took over the school’s athletic department officially on Saturday, and his first action was to fire Cubit, just one week before the team begins its spring practices.
Smith has not coached in the college ranks since 1995, when he was a defensive backs coach with the Ohio State Buckeyes. Before that he coached linebackers at four different schools, including Wisconsin and Arizona State, and he also was a defensive backs coach at the University of Tennessee.
Since then, all of his experience has been at the pro level. He’s had two different stops as a head coach in the NFL, including the Bears for nearly a decade and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the last two seasons. Tampa opted to fire Smith after the 2015 campaign however, freeing him up to pursue other coaching opportunities.
If the Illini end up hiring Smith, they would be looking to make the biggest coaching splash they’ve made as a program since they hired Ron Zook in 2005 after a stint with the Florida Gators. Smith would be a significant upgrade in terms of notoriety and because of his reputation as a player’s coach, and he could help the Illini establish an identity on the field that they have sorely lacked since Zook was fired after the 2011 season.