Lovie Smith emerges as leading candidate for Illinois coach: Reports

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CHAMPAIGN  – For the past few years Illinois football has been in the national conversation for negative reasons.

On Saturday, they’ve returned thanks to more movement in the program’s head coaching position and a big name that could be headed to Champaign.

According to a number of reports on Saturday, former Bears head coach Lovie Smith has emerged as the leading candidate for the Illini’ head coaching position. That was vacated this morning when new athletic director Josh Whitman unexpectedly fired head coach Bill Cubit this morning.

Smith was recently fired by the Buccaneers after two seasons. Before that he served as the Bears head coach from 2004-2012, winning the NFC North Division title three times, an NFC Championship in 2006 and a playoff win in 2010.

If he does come to Champaign, Smith would do so over 20 years removed from his last college coaching job. Back in 1995 he served as the defensive backs coach for Ohio State.

Smith started as a linebackers coach for his Alma Mater Tulsa in 1983. He served in that role till 1986 and then joined Wisconsin’s staff in the same capacity for the 1987 season. He held the same position at Arizona State (1988-1991) and Kentucky (1992) before becoming a defensive backs coach for Tennessee (1993-1994) and Ohio State (1995).

Lovie’s NFL career began in 1996 when he became the defensive backs coach for the Buccaneers and he held that position till 2000. He joined the Rams as their defensive coordinator in 2001, helping St. Louis to Super Bowl that season and served in that role till 2003.

After the firing of Dick Jauron, Smith was hired as the Bears head coach and posted an 81-63 record in nine seasons in Chicago. Despite an 11-5 record in 2012, Smith was fired and sat out the 2013 season before getting hired by the Buccaneers as their head coach in 2014.

He was in Tampa for two seasons and improved the Buccaneers record from 2-14 to 6-10 in his second season. But he was fired following the 2015 campaign in favor of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.