UPDATE 7:54 AM: The Lovie Smith hire is officially official. Here are contract details:
Here's the breakdown of Lovie Smith's six-year deal with Illinois. pic.twitter.com/QiCxkuaE9u— Brian Hamilton (@BrianHamiltonSI) March 7, 2016
Interesting front loaded deal that I assume allows the University to better absorb the buyouts of the Cubits and potentially other assistant coaches. I'm interested in the buyout details, because the backloaded money could be a huge anchor on Illinois if Lovie doesn't work out.
It appears as all the weekend rumors about Lovie Smith being the new Illinois head coach were correct. Either that, or new Illinois AD Josh Whitman is trolling the heck out of Illinois fans. That's the only way you can read a tweet like this:
#ILLINI pic.twitter.com/OULEpiGgjS— Josh Whitman (@IlliniAD) March 7, 2016
Illinois fans are understandably excited by the hire. I have my own "reservations" about whether the hire will be successful (in quotes b/c I don't care if he sucks), but I can't blame Illini fans from feeling good about it. If you'd told me that Illinois would fire their crappy head coach in March and have ended up with a Lovie Smith instead of a coach who is even crappier, I'd have endorsed it as the right move. Time will tell as to whether this move is a success or not, but you have to think Whitman and Lovie are going to win the press conference stage of things.
All in all it was a weird weekend. The Cubit firing didn't make sense for a number of reasons. The players ffound out about it on Twitter. And yet two days after it happened you can understand why The Champaign Room feels like Illinois now has a path to relevancy:
Amid a picked-over crop of college coaching candidates, Smith stands out as someone unexpected, someone very qualified, someone proven, and someone that will resonate on a personal level with a lot of fans and prospects who really wouldn't have cared which off-brand coordinator the Illini brought in.
After five years of nothing but talk, Whitman started his tenure with strong actions. If you're a fan who's grown cynical, it has to take you aback. For a program whose predictability has been matched in recent years only by its incompetence, a surprise like yesterday is exactly what was needed.
Minnesota fans can probably explain the possible problems with a new AD who focuses on making a splash with a new hire at an odd time, but again, you really can't fault Illinois fans for being excited. And unless something changes rapidly, Illinois fans should get to enjoy that feeling through an entire off-season.