Lovie Smith preaches patience in Illini football rebuild

CHICAGO - Rebuild it and they will come.

That's the hope for the Fighting Illini football program after a 3-9 start to the Lovie Smith era.

It may be unfair to judge Smith on last year's slow start. He inherited the roster. He didn't get much prep time. And it was his maiden voyage as a head coach in the college ranks.

This season may not be any easier. A good chunk of the Illini's most talented players are gone. Star running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn transferred to Vanderbilt, while Wes Lunt and Dawuane Smoot moved on to the NFL.

But Smith isn't panicking.

"I'm a patient man. You have to have patience. You'd like to snap your fingers and have it happen. Our sports are a little harder than that. In this conference, there are a lot of good programs. Ours hadn't been there. But, in time, if you have a plan - it works."

That calm demeanor is trickling down to his players, providing a stoic yet confident driving force.

"No, he doesn't yell. No, he's never out of his element. When you see him and he walks and his presence is felt," noted senior wideout Malik Turner. "That's motivation enough."

"You can tell he has a lot of wisdom in the game. A guy that just blows his top doesn't have a lot of wisdom," remarked senior defensive back Jaylen Dunlap. "I think we have the best coach in the country, to be honest."