Lovie Smith better dig that old orange-and-blue gear out of his closet.
Illinois made it official Monday morning, announcing that the former Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach is the new head football coach of the Fighting Illini.
The announcement of Smith's hiring comes just two days after new athletics director Josh Whitman — on his first day on the job — surprisingly dismissed head football coach Bill Cubit, who had been in his position for a little more than three months.
“I am extremely excited to be named head coach of the Fighting Illini,” Smith said in the announcement. “Josh 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 tweeted this picture with Smith shortly before the official announcement was made.
— Josh Whitman (@IlliniAD) March 7, 2016
[MORE BIG TEN: Why Lovie Smith is a home-run hire for the Illini]
Smith brings instant buzz to a program that was completely devoid of interest and excitement just two days ago. Smith spent 11 seasons as an NFL head coach, winning 81 games in nine seasons leading the Bears, during which he won a trio of division titles and made an appearance in Super Bowl XLI. Most recently, he spent two years as the head coach of the Buccaneers.
This is Smith's first time as a college head coach, though he spent years as a college assistant, working at multiple Big Ten and SEC programs.
Illinois announced that Smith agreed to a six-year deal worth $21 million.
Whitman's transformation of the program in three days is nothing short of astounding. While plenty of questions remain about how well Smith can recruit and/or win with a program that's been to just four bowl games in the past 14 seasons, the amount of interest generated and the commitment to change displayed makes this seem like a home-run hire.
“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 in the announcement. “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.”
The Illini will introduce Smith at a 2 p.m. press conference Monday in Champaign.