Big Ten

Lovie Smith addresses ESPN report of his being 'miserable' as Illini head coach

Lovie Smith addresses ESPN report of his being 'miserable' as Illini head coach

Lovie Smith was hired as a big-name splash at Illinois tasked with a long-term rebuilding project to get a struggling football program out of the Big Ten's basement.

With an ugly 2-6 record through eight 2016 games — the only wins coming against Murray State and Rutgers, with an embarrassing loss to Purdue peppered in there — it's abundantly clear that the rebuild will be a long one, maybe much longer than originally thought.

But how long will Smith be a part of it?

That would seem like a strange question prior to this weekend, but a report from ESPN's Adam Rittenberg (it's an Insider story) says that Smith is "miserable" as the Illinois head coach and asks whether Smith could leave Champaign after just one season.

From Rittenberg:

Several industry sources say that Smith is miserable in Champaign. Yes, every 2-6 coach is miserable, but this situation is especially sour — and that the rebuilding job looks much greater than he anticipated. Could Lovie be one-and-done? A source close to Smith says no and that while the rebuild is extreme, Smith should be rejuvenated after signing his own recruiting class. Then again, if the NFL expresses renewed interest in Smith, all bets are off.

So while "Will Smith leave after one season at Illinois?" is an attention-grabbing question, at least one of Rittenberg's sources seems to think that won't happen.

Smith was asked about the report during his weekly press conference Monday.

"Am I happy right now with where we are? No, no one on our football team is happy with where we are right now," Smith said. "My time in Champaign, it's a little bit bigger than where we are right now. Our football team, we're going to win a lot of games eventually, and there's not much more than that. As I said after the game Saturday, not many of us should be happy with where we're at right now, but we're going to do something to fix it together here.

"I would not get into speculation at all," Smith said when directly asked about the whole "one-and-done" phrasing. "You're hearing it from me. I would go on what you're getting from me right now."

It's understandable that Smith's perspective could be changing. The roster looks to be in much worse shape than anyone could've predicted, and injuries to key offensive pieces have resulted in the Illini getting blown out on a fairly regular basis, including in each of the last two games: a 41-8 loss to Michigan and a 40-17 loss to Minnesota. Really, this year's team seems to be playing worse than last year's team — the one upended by its head coach getting fired a week before the season started.

But, as has been the case since Smith was hired in the spring, the positives lie in the long-term future of the program. Smith is still putting together his first recruiting class, and his mere presence as someone with a successful NFL resume should bring an uptick in recruiting, particularly in the state, where he was the long-time head coach of the Bears. The Illini also recently announced plans for major renovations to the football facilities. Those two factors — getting his own players into his program and getting an upgrade in facilities — should improve the outlook for Smith and the Illini.

But if he really is "miserable," maybe there's nothing keeping him in Champaign if another opportunity arises.

"When I took the job, I expected us to eventually win a whole lot of football games, and that hasn't changed," Smith said. "As far as how soon? Yeah, you want to come in, win every game right away. Normally it doesn't happen that way. We've had opportunities to win games. A few games we didn't (have those opportunities). But as far as what I thought, we want our team to play to the best of their ability each week. We haven't done that.

"We're going to go back, continue to correct and coach the guys hard, and eventually we'll get over the hump."

Smith added a couple tweets later on Monday night.

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.