Illinois officially hires Lovie Smith as head coach

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith will be returning to the collegiate level to resume his coaching career. On Monday morning, the Illinois Fighting Illini officially announced Smith has been hired as the team’s new head coach.

Smith, who was most recently fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will now have his first crack at being a head coach at the college level.

Done deal. #Illini #WeWillWin pic.twitter.com/kzpeljjiNn

— Illinois Football (@IlliniFootball) March 7, 2016

Previously, Smith served as the linebackers coach for Tulsa, Wisconsin, Arizona State and Kentucky. Smith also coached defensive backs at Tennessee and Ohio State before leaving for the NFL.

Smith will officially be introduced as Illinois’ new coach at a press conference today at 3 p.m. ET.

Smith’s deal will be 6 years, $25 million. Breakdown — $2 mil for 2016 & 2017, $3 mil for 2018, $4 mil for 2019 & $5 mil 2020 & 2021.

— talking Illini (@talking_illini) March 7, 2016

“I am extremely excited to be named head coach of the Fighting Illini,” Smith said in a statement. “[Athletics Director Josh Whitman] 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. 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 is excited about the hiring, which marks the second time a NFL coach accepted the Illinois job.

“Naming Lovie Smith as the Illinois head football coach is the first step in taking this program to a place of national prominence,” Whitman said. “We will build a program that contends annually for Big Ten and national championships. The timing for this move was extremely tight, and we needed to move quickly. A coach of Lovie’s caliber would not have been available to us if we had waited until after the 2016 season. Lovie’s reputation as a coach, and even more so as a person, made it clear it was an awesome opportunity for the University of Illinois.”

With Smith now joining the Big Ten coaching ranks, it will be interesting to see how he is able to restore the Fighting Illini program. After all, the Big Ten has become one of the toughest conferences in football.

It won’t be easy to do, but Smith is up for the challenge.

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*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports