Illinois has decided to move on from Lovie Smith with the program firing its coach Sunday. Smith just concluded his fifth season coaching the Illini and has formally been relieved of his duties by athletic director Josh Whitman.
Whitman said “a national search to identify Coach Smith’s successor” will begin immediately. Smith will not coach Illinois’ final game of the season.
The Smith hire did not play out as Illinois hoped when it brought the longtime NFL head coach and nine-year leader of the Chicago Bears to Champaign, Illinois, in hopes of turning around the football program. Smith went 17-39 in five seasons with a 10-33 mark in Big Ten play with just one bowl appearance, a loss in the 2019 Redbox Bowl to finish 6-7 on the season.
Illinois never finished with a winning Big Ten record in Smith’s five seasons and finished last in the Big Ten West division twice (2017, 2018).
Saturday’s 28-10 loss at in-state rival Northwestern was likely the final straw, driving home frustration for Illinois fans as Smith has been unable to beat the Wildcats. The Illini’s six-game losing streak in the series began before he took over the program. Pat Fitzgerald has lost just four times to Illinois since 2006, and three of those losses came to Ron Zook.
Illinois has expectations of where it wants to be against the rest of the Big Ten, but it’s tough to start meeting those expectations when you’re consistently on the losing end against your in-state rival. Now, the Illini will begin a coaching search hoping to find the man who will be able to turn around its fortunes.