Lovie Smith expected to become Illinois head football coach

On the heels of new Illinois AD Josh Whitman firing head coach Bill Cubit, one-time Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith is expected to become the next Illini head coach, a source told FOX Sports Saturday. 

The Saturday firing of Cubit and his son Ryan, the offensive coordinator was made on Whitman’s first official day on the job. CBS in Chicago reported that Smith is expected to be the new coach. At a press conference, Whitman seemed to have a head coach option in mind but said any hire would have to wait until the school’s HR process plays out.

Though Smith has been away from college football for over two decades, there are some things that would add up to him being the guy. The connection is Whitman played for Ron Turner at Illinois and is close to his old coach. Turner, now the FIU head coach, was an assistant on Smith’s Chicago Bears staff for several years.

The 57-year-old Smith was fired a few months ago as the Tampa Bucs head coach. Smith’s last stint as a college coach was 21 years ago when he was the defensive backs coach at Ohio State. A source told Fox Sports that Smith might be tempted by the job because he could also bring two of his sons who were on his staff in Tampa Bay with him. 

Smith led the Bears to three NFL North titles and to a Super Bowl appearance in 2006. His career record in the NFL is 89-87. He was fired after two seasons in Tampa Bay after he’d gone 8-24.

Smith was the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2014-15.

If Smith doesn’t end up getting the job, there are several other options Illinois could consider: Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck, Air Force’s Troy Calhoun and Ohio State’s offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Ed Warinner.

The 35-year-old Fleck, a former Northern Illinois WR, is an Illinois native. HIs record at WMU is just 17-21, but he is 16-10 the past two years and is seen as a fast-riser in the coaching world.

The 49-year-old Calhoun, a former NFL offensive coordinator whose team beat both Boise State and Jim McElwain’s Colorado State program in 2014 and then beat Boise at Boise in 2015 winning 18 games the past two seasons combined despite dealing with the Academy’s strict restrictions

Warinner has been with the Buckeyes since Urban Meyer took over the program in 2012.  Before that he had coached at Notre Dame and a decade ago, he spent two seasons as the Illini’s run game coordinator and O-line coach.