#B1GCoachRank: No. 12 Lovie Smith
Anybody can do power rankings. Anyone and everyone will have some sort of ranking of college football coaches. Simply ranking coaches without much explanation is easy and far too common.
Instead of doing that, we went into detail about the tenures of every B1G coach. We looked at their biggest win, their most embarrassing loss, their top recruiting class and most importantly, why they were ranked where they where. We’ll go in depth with each coach until we get down to No. 1.
With that in mind, let the #B1GCoachRank debate begin:
Coach — No. 12 Lovie Smith (Illinois)
Record — 0-0
Record vs. top 25 — 0-0
Where team was when he was hired — In flux, to say the least. The sudden firing of Bill Cubit sent shockwaves through Champaign. On the surface, the move made sense. Newly hired athletic director Josh Whitman wanted to bring in his guy. It just came as a surprise because most coaches are hired well before March. But after Illinois delayed its AD search, that wasn’t an option.
There would’ve been a mass exodus at Illinois if Whitman brought in almost anyone else. Considering most Illini players were recruited by Tim Beckman, that would’ve been understandable. But instead, Smith probably made a few transfers who left after Cubit shed his interim tag want to come back.
Unfortunately, Smith didn’t get to recruit any of the 2016 class. He also inherited a five-win team that lost its best playmaker on both sides of the ball (Josh Ferguson and Clayton Fejedelem). Smith’s situation wasn’t quite as messy as Rutgers, but he definitely had and still has his fair share of early hurdles to overcome.
Biggest win — N/A
Most embarrassing loss — N/A
Best recruiting class — 2017
The biggest question with Smith when he was hired was how he’d recruit. He hadn’t been in the college game in 20 years, which means he hasn’t had to recruit kids in the social media/hudl/recruiting rankings era. Like Rutgers in New Jersey, Illinois had been getting crushed by other schools in its own backyard. Look at how many top-10 recruits from Illinois went elsewhere from 2014-16:
- Michigan State: 6
- Notre Dame: 5
- Northwestern: 4
- Ohio State: 2
- Wisconsin: 2
How many did Illinois get in those three years? Just one. That simply cannot happen. Even in places that the talent pool isn’t deep (Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska), those schools at least dominate their own turf.
Having said that, that trend finally could be turning around at Illinois.
Smith’s 2017 class already features one top-10 Illinois prospect in three-star receiver Ricky Smalling, and it could feature another if three-star linebacker Micah Awodiran comes on board. Right now, Smith’s 2017 class is only four deep, but that should grow this summer.
Smith’s connections in his home state of Texas, St. Louis and Chicago could help him grow the class quicker than some expect. If and when he starts reeling in players from those markets, those questions about him as a recruiter will fade quickly.
What could get him fired — Tim Beckman Part II. Too soon?
Why he’s at No. 12 — Smith is arguably the biggest unknown among B1G coaches. He’s never been a head coach in the college ranks and he’s making the biggest offseason transition among perhaps any Power Five coach.
So why is he at No. 12 and not No. 13 or No. 14?
Well, Smith has reached a higher level of football success than any B1G coach not named Jim Harbaugh. He led a team to the Super Bowl. Sure, the college game is different from the NFL. But Smith was coaching at a higher level — with more pressure — for 11 of the last 12 years. He was fired in Chicago after going 10-6 and he was caught in an unfair situation in Tampa Bay and was let go after tripling the team’s win total with a rookie quarterback. That’s a wordy way of saying that Smith wasn’t a typical NFL flameout.
That’s why Whitman jumped at the chance to hire him. Smith already lined up an impressive coaching staff with limited time — but with a healthy budget. Season tickets have already skyrocketed, and for the first time in a long time, there’s a different buzz about Illinois football.
Will Smith succeed at Illinois? That remains to be seen. But before he’s even coached a game, Smith has already done plenty to move past a couple of his fellow B1G coaches.
No. 12 — Lovie Smith
No. 11 — TBA