Illinois football coach Lovie Smith hasn’t had the easiest beginning to his tenure as head coach for the Fighting Illini.
After finishing the season 3-9, he was likely looking towards the offseason to retool, and begin the process of rebuilding the program. That’ll take a backseat now that three of his players are facing serious criminal charges.
Earlier today, Champaign News-Gazette reported that three players from the Illini football team had been taken in to custody.
Offensive linemen Darta Lee and Howard Watkins, along with tight end/wide receiver Zarrian Holcombe were arrested on charges of home invasion and armed robbery. The product of a “stupid plan,” they were foiled when one of the victims of the robbery recognized the voice of one of the men.
That arrest led to the arrests of the other two players.
Smith addressed the issue directly on Wednesday with a prepared statement. He notes that two of the players involved, Lee and Holcombe, had already been suspended from the team before the arrest. Their suspension will be extended indefinitely, and Watkins has been suspended effective immediately.
“These allegations, if true, fail to live up to the standards we expect of our student-athletes,” Smith said. “We continue to gather information and will take appropriate steps based upon what we learn.”
If Lovie Smith is going to turn things around for the Fighting Illini, it isn’t going to come easy. With yet another distraction to deal with, he’ll do his best to focus on getting the football team ready for the 2017 season.