Big Ten

Illini make it official: Lovie Smith is next head football coach

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Illini make it official: Lovie Smith is next head football coach

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.

[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.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.