Illinois and fifth-year football coach Lovie Smith have mutually agreed to part ways Sunday morning. Smith finishes his tenure with the Illini with a 17-39 record, just 10-32 in the Big Ten.
“Lovie Smith led the Illinois football program with unquestioned integrity during his nearly five years of service,” said Whitman. “I have tremendous respect for Coach Smith and will always be grateful to him for providing a steady, experienced hand at a time when our program required stability. His unshakeable leadership, never more needed than during this pandemic, will be forever remembered.
“Nonetheless, based on extensive evaluation of the program’s current state and future outlook, I have concluded the program is not progressing at the rate we should expect at this advanced stage in Coach Smith’s tenure,” Whitman continued. “To achieve our competitive objectives, I believe new leadership of the football program is required. I will always look fondly on the time Lovie and I have spent together. I wish him and MaryAnne nothing but the best.”
After leading the program to its first bowl appearance since 2014 last season, the Illini have regressed this year winning just two games. Northwestern beat Illinois on Saturday 28-10 in the sixth straight win in the annual series between the two rival in-state schools.
Smith was a surprise hire to many back in 2016 by then new athletic director Josh Whitman. He had fired Bill Cubit on his first official day on the job, then turned around and handed the program to Lovie, who had been in the NFL for more than two decades. Whitman invested heavily in the former Bears coach, paying him $21 million over six years, an unprecedented contract for an Illini coach. But the 62-year old was never able to post a winning season, after losing the Redbox Bowl in 2019 to finish 6-7.
Lovie is owed a $2 million buyout, per terms of his contract that WCIA requested through a FOIA late last year. He will also be paid the prorated amount of his salary for year five, running through Jan. 31.