Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Northwestern and Illinois’ college football programs are ranked in the top 10 this year.

Kind of.

One esteemed name in the college football ranks has placed Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald atop the list of the all-time greatest college coaches…ranked as players. Illini coach Lovie Smith ranks at No. 10.

Rich Cirminiello, Director of College Awards for the Maxwell Football Club, compiled the list and he is an excellent follow on Twitter. He has several other noteworthy lists of interest, including the top college football players who are now coaches in the NFL. Psst…spoiler alert: several local connections are on that particular list as well, including Saints head coach Sean Payton (QB, Eastern Illinois) and Ron Rivera (LB, California).

But back to Coach Fitz, who bleeds purple and has emphatically put the NU football program on the map since the mid-90s. He was a two-time All-American in addition to receiving consecutive Bronco Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors as a linebacker (1995-96). He helped guide the Wildcats to the ’96 Rose Bowl. Since becoming the team’s head coach in 2006, he has led the program to nine bowl games (four wins).

We all know Lovie Smith’s coaching legacy with the Bears and his rebuilding of the Illinois football program, but did you know how much he dominated as a college player? He played for Tulsa from 1976-79, racking up 367 career tackles primarily as a safety. He was a three-time All-Missouri Valley Conference award winner and earned a second-team All-America mention in 1978. He was also named MVC Newcomer of the Year after he tallied 90 tackles as a freshman.

[MORE: Lovie Smith, Mike Tirico discuss systemic racism 

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who passed for over 11,000 yards in seven seasons as a Chicago Bear, ranked No. 2 on Cirminiello’s list. In a follow-up tweet, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, who dominated as a wide receiver at NIU and at nearby Kaneland High School, came in at No. 20. Western Michigan’s Tim Lester —a star player at Wheaton Warrenville South HS— is in at No. 7.

Who said that the Land of Lincoln didn’t have top college football talent?

Lovie Smith, Mike Tirico discuss systemic racism, nationwide protests

Lovie Smith, Mike Tirico discuss systemic racism, nationwide protests

Old Bears friend and current beardless Illinois football coach Lovie Smith stopped by NBC's 'Lunch Time Live' to chat with Mike Tirico about the current protests taking place in cities all across the country. 

Smith talked about how he's always encouraged his players to take an active involvement in what's happening off the field, and also addressed what he feels should be the next steps taken. 

You can watch the conversation between Smith and Tirico in the video below:

Illinois football coach Lovie Smith's fantastic beard has disappeared

Illinois football coach Lovie Smith's fantastic beard has disappeared

Look at this tremendous man: 

Such grace, such elegance. We could all learn something from that beard. But times are different; Illinois football's days as being the laughing stock of the B1G are over. They played in the 2019 RedBox Bowl, you'll remember. Did they win? Up for debate, but they were there. It counted. 

The winds of change are blowing through Champaign, and Lovie Smith knows this. It explains this picture, tweeted from the Illinois Football account on Wednesday night: 

It's a new (old?) normal, and one we'll all have to get used to. But Illinois football is BACK.