Former NFL coach Lovie Smith was hired as the University of Illinois football coach Monday, two days after the firing of Bill Cubit following a 5-7 season.
Smith, who took the Chicago Bears to Super Bowl XLI in 2006, was dismissed as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in January.
Cubit was let go after one season in charge. Smith said he is intent on making the Fighting Illini a Big Ten power and was expected to be introduced at a campus news conference Monday afternoon.
Pending approval of university trustees, Smith has a six-year contract worth $21 million in salary. He will be paid $2 million a year in each of his first two seasons.
Smith is Illinois’ first Black head coach in football or men’s basketball. The university has sometimes been criticized by state lawmakers and others for never hiring a Black coach for either program.
This is the first college head-coaching job for the 58-year-old Smith. He did not hesitate when it was offered by athletic director Josh Whitman.
“Josh approached me about this possibility, and I immediately seized on the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the young men who are part of the program today and in the future,” Smith said. “I take this responsibility very seriously and can’t wait to get a staff in place to start our move to make Illinois a contender for Big Ten titles. We will play an exciting brand of football that will make our fans, alumni, student body and members of the University community extremely proud.”
Whitman said hiring a coach of Smith’s stature is first step toward building Illinois football, which has not made a Rose Bowl appearance since 2008.