So when Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman said “we’ve provided a pool of resources very competitive in our conference, among the top in our league” at Lovie Smith’s introductory press conference, he wasn’t kidding.
According to Scout.com, Illinois is allocating a $4 million budget for Smith to assemble a staff. Among B1G teams, only Michigan and Ohio State had bigger budgets for their assistants in 2015.
It’s a major upgrade from what former Illini coach Bill Cubit had to work with:
Can confirm, $4 million assistant salary pool for #illini. Cubit's staff was $2.4 million.
— Jeremy Werner (@JWernerScout) March 7, 2016
With the exception of Bill and Ryan Cubit, both of whom were fired by Whitman on Saturday, every Illini assistant will have a chance to interview for a spot on Smith’s staff. No matter what, there will be spots to fill.
Smith is reportedly already going to work on doing just that:
— Alex Marvez (@alexmarvez) March 8, 2016
Source: Illinois targeting Louisville OC Garrick McGee as Lovie Smith's OC/QB coach. Not done. But clear top target.
— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) March 8, 2016
Sherman is the most well-known name of that group. The former Green Bay Packers coach (2000-05) also was the head coach at Texas A&M from 2008-11 but most recently coached high school football. If Smith were to land Sherman, that would give Illinois two former NFL head coaches on staff, both of whom would be taking the Cubits’ roles.
Tim Holt was on Smith’s staff with the Chicago Bears in 2012 as an offensive line coach. He’s currently the assistant offensive line coach for the Oakland Raiders.
Andrew Hayes-Stoker was Smith’s wide receivers coach in Tampa Bay and worked with the likes of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Following Smith’s departure, he took an assistant role with the Indianapolis Colts.
Footballscoop.com also reported that Smith is targeting Hardy Nickerson, who just took a job with the San Francisco 49ers as its linebackers coach. Nickerson worked with Smith for two years in Tampa Bay as his linebackers coach. But Football Scoop reported that if Nickerson were to come to Illinois, it would be for the defensive coordinator position.
Smith already maintained his desire to keep defensive coordinator Mike Phair on board, but the two don’t have a deal in place yet. Phair was the defensive line coach for Smith in his final two seasons with the Bears.
With the budget Illinois has in place, it would appear the university would be willing to potentially buy select assistants out of their current contracts. Given the odd timing Smith will have to assemble his staff, that could be his only option.
It was clear that when Smith was given a six-year, $21 million contract, Illinois was going all-in with its next coach. Just as important, it’s evident that financial backing won’t stop with Smith.