Illinois Football Coach Lovie Smith with Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman at Memorial Stadium – March 6, 2016
Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman took a major step in elevating the Fighting Illini football in the national landscape with the hiring of longtime NFL coach Lovie Smith as head football coach on March 7, 2016.
Smith is the 25th head football coach at Illinois, and the second to move directly from an NFL head coach position to the same in Champaign-Urbana. With Smith’s appointment to lead the Illini football team, he became the Illini’s first African-American head football coach.
Smith took Illinois to the Redbox Bowl in 2019, the Illini’s first bowl in five years, after clinching a berth with a thrilling 37-34 victory at Michigan State. Illinois trailed 28-3 in the second quarter and 31-10 entering the fourth before completing the biggest comeback in program history. The Fighting Illini tied for the largest fourth-quarter comeback in a Big Ten game in the last 40 seasons by outscoring Michigan State 27-3 in the fourth quarter, including Daniel Barker’s game-winning touchdown reception from Brandon Peters with five seconds left. Illinois’ 27 fourth-quarter points were the most by an opponent in the 96-year, 544-game history of Michigan State’s Spartan Stadium.
In his “signature win,” Smith led the Fighting Illini to one of the biggest upsets in Big Ten history with a 24-23 victory over No. 6 Wisconsin on Oct. 19, 2019. Illinois entered the day as a 30-point underdog before Jake McCourt’s 39-yard field goal as time expired sent Illini fans rushing to the Memorial Stadium field in one of the greatest Homecoming scenes in University of Illinois history. Smith was named the Dodd Trophy National Coach of the Week and the Illini were named the Reveal Suits National Team of the Week.
The Wisconsin victory sprung Illinois to four straight Big Ten wins, the first four-game Big Ten winning streak for the Fighting Illini since the 2001 Big Ten Championship team finished the regular season with seven straight conference victories. Illinois finished the 2019 regular season 6-6 and 4-5 in the Big Ten.
Smith completed his third season at Illinois in 2018 after putting together a coaching staff with more NFL coaching experience than any other in college football. In 2019, Smith also serves as defensive coordinator.
Smith returned to college football for the first time since 1996 after spending 19 years in the NFL, including 11 years as a head coach. He owns an 89-87 (.506) career record as an NFL head coach from 2004-2012 and 2014-2015 and went 3-3 in playoff games, including one trip to the Super Bowl. He also has a Super Bowl appearance as the defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams.
Smith spent two years as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2014-15), where the Bucs improved from two victories in 2014 to six wins in 2015 with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston.
Smith was the head coach of the Chicago Bears for nine seasons from 2004-12 and amassed a record of 81-63 (.563) including three division titles, two NFC Championship Game appearances (2006, 2010) and a berth in Super Bowl XLI.
Smith and Tony Dungy became the first two African-American head coaches to coach in the Super Bowl when they faced each other in Super Bowl XLI.
The AP Coach of the Year in 2005, Smith’s 81 wins with Chicago are the third-most in Bears history. Smith’s Bears featured one of the best defenses of the era, including All-Pro linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, cornerback Charles Tillman, and defensive end Julius Peppers.
Before taking over as Chicago’s head coach, Smith spent three seasons with St. Louis Rams as the assistant head coach/defensive coordinator (2003) and defensive coordinator (2001-02).
He helped the 2001 Rams to an appearance in Super Bowl XXXVI, falling to the New England Patriots. Smith’s defense held the New England offense to 267 yards and ten points.
Smith coached All-Pro linebacker Hardy Nickerson while an assistant in Tampa Bay (1996-2000), helping to create one of the league’s most dominant defenses of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Nickerson experienced immense success playing under Smith from 1996-99, earning a Pro Bowl berth in all four seasons, averaging 137 tackles per season, adding eight forced fumbles and 5.5 sacks.
Smith spent his first 14 years as a collegiate coach, working at Tulsa (1993-86), Wisconsin (1987), Arizona State (1988-1991), Kentucky (1992), Tennessee (1993-94), and Ohio State (1995). His last collegiate game was the 1996 Citrus Bowl (1995 season) with Ohio State and also has bowl experience in the 1994 Citrus Bowl and 1994 Gator Bowl (1993 season) with Tennessee.
A native of Big Sandy, Texas, Smith led the Big Sandy Wildcats to three consecutive state championships in high school and was all-state as a defensive end and linebacker. He went on to play collegiately at the University of Tulsa and was a two-time All-American and a three-time All-Missouri Valley Conference selection.
Smith and his wife, MaryAnne, are the proud parents of three children: Mikal, Matthew, and Miles.
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Lovie Smith Coaching Experience
Years Team Position 2016- Illinois Head Coach 2014-15 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach (8-24) 2004-12 Chicago Bears Head Coach (81-63) 2003 St. Louis Rams Asst. Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator 2001-02 St. Louis Rams Defensive Coordinator 1996-2000 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Linebackers 1995 Ohio State Defensive Backs 1993-94 Tennessee Defensive Backs 1992 Kentucky Linebackers 1988-1991 Arizona State Linebackers 1987 Wisconsin Linebackers 1983-86 Tulsa Linebackers 1981-82 Cascia Hall Prep HS (Tulsa, OK) Asst. Coach/DB/WR 1980 Big Sandy HS (Big Sandy, Texas) Defensive Coordinator