Hello, and welcome to a Thumpasaurus roundtable discussion. I'm your host, Inquisitive Thumpasaurus. The Illinois Fighting Illini shocked the college football world this weekend when, in his first day on the job, the new athletic director Josh Whitman fired head coach Bill Cubit and turned around and landed former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith almost immediately. I've invited a panel of special guests to discuss every aspect of this hire. Please welcome to the show Depression Thumpasaurus, Pragmatic Thumpasaurus and Belligerent Thumpasaurus.
Welcome to the show, gentlesaurs. Illinois basketball seems unlikely to make the Big Dance, but Josh Whitman has brought March Madness to Memorial Stadium. Is the unprecedented timing of a move like this appropriate?
well, only at illinois would we fire a coach seven days before the season began, extend the interim coach and fire him six days before spring football starts. now we've had to move spring football back to accommodate this staff change.
That may be so, but consider this: the way spring football was scheduled, the players would have run one week of practice, gone on spring break for a week, and resumed practice. I see nothing wrong with moving spring football into a schedule where all the practices can be cohesive. Players were very surprised, but ultimately ---
NO HARM IN PUTTING YOUR TRASH OUT EARLY. ALL ALONG I'VE BEEN SCREAMING "EVERY DAY WE DON'T PUNT CUBIT, A WINNING PROGRAM GETS FARTHER AWAY." TWO HOURS ON THE JOB AND JOSH HITMAN HAS HEADS ON A PIKE OUTSIDE THE STADIUM. GOOD WORK.
I agree with the gist of what my belligerent colleague is saying, though I take some issue with his characterization of Josh Whitman. Keeping Bill Cubit was doing us no favors if we were trying to build a winning program. The offensive struggles of the 2015 Fighting Illini showed that the rest of the league had figured out his offense and in three years the plan hadn't evolved. To his credit, Cubit put together a coaching staff and recruited a fairly complete class, but one that ranked 71st in the country according to 247 Sports and was marked by a tremendous amount of transfers, decommits and last-second commitments. Kudos to Bill Cubit for at least filling the roster until such a time that Illinois hired an athletic director and could move the football program forward. Unfortunately for him, that time has come.
ENJOY YOUR BUYOUT, MILLION DOLLAR BILL. I'LL MAKE IT RAIN IN YOUR GENERAL DIRECTION IF IT'LL GET YOU AND RYAN OUT OF TOWN FASTER
Bill Cubit's done nothing wrong except not perform well enough to demonstrate that he can lead Illinois forward. The administration should never have let this happen. Josh Whitman all but said as much in his press conference. Anyone in Bill Cubit's situation would have taken the job and would probably even go so far as to promote their son to offensive coordinator for $400,000. Although it's non-traditional to do so at this time, there's never a bad time to take a step forward.
i watched josh whitman's press conference and i was listening for the word "ideal" so i could facepalm and be sad. he didn't say it when describing our situation. very savvy.
Josh Whitman made a bold move to change the future of Illinois Fighting Illini Football. How does this change the outlook for the 2016 season?
To be honest, the win-loss record might not be very different than it would have been had we stuck with Cubit. The schedule this year has six teams on it that won 10 or more games (UNC, Iowa, Wisconsin, MSU, UM and Northwestern), but we're also playing with a very experienced roster. Linebacker depth will be an issue, but we have a solid defensive and offensive line with a lot of starts under their belt, a senior quarterback and some talent at the skill positions.
if mike dudek doesn't re-injure himself that is
NOT SURE WHAT LOVIE'S GONNA RUN OFFENSIVELY BUT THE BAR'S SET PRETTY LOW. FEWER YARDS PER GAME AVERAGE THAN MARYLAND LAST YEAR. BRB GONNA SEE HOW RYAN CUBIT'S PACKING IS COMING ALONG
well we shouldn't be in this situation, dino babers was supposed to come here in the fall and use this senior-laden 2016 team to win immediately and establish credibility he could use to jumpstart recruiting.
Aha, but that's why this is such a great move! Now Lovie can do that same exact thing! The 2015 recruiting class was good enough that there doesn't have to be a massive talent chasm. With the right coach, we still have a chance to build something! Whereas before we were looking at a senior-laden team under Bill Cubit building towards a nonchalant retirement party for Cubes and giving our next coach a roster full of holes, Lovie can take over a fairly complete if unspectacular roster and show what his coaching can do for it.
yeah but remember when tim beckman took over ron zook's roster in 2012 and the upperclassmen didn't buy in and it was a mess? we went winless in the big ten...again. the current players were pretty surprised that cubit was fired. and what happens to the players cubit's staff just brought in?
WHAT HAPPENS TO THEM IS THAT THEY GET AN OPPORTUNITY TO PLAY FOR LOVIE SMITH, THE 3RD BEST COACH IN THE HISTORY OF THE CHICAGO BEARS. NOBODY WITH ENOUGH COMPETITIVE FIRE TO PLAY DIVISION ONE FOOTBALL WOULD BE DISAPPOINTED WITH THAT OUTCOME.
We've mostly been talking about what it meant to replace Bill Cubit at this juncture, but what of the man who took his place? What we do know for sure is that his name is Lovie Smith, and that is not a nickname. He's 58 years old and was a two-time All-American linebacker/safety at Tulsa. He quickly moved up in coaching, from his own high school as defensive coordinator to an area prep school to Tulsa itself as linebackers coach, all in the span of 3 years. He went on to be a defensive position coach at Wisconsin, Arizona State, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio State. In 1996 he became a linebacker coach for Tony Dungy's Tampa Bay Buccanneers, where the two of them developed the Tampa 2 defense. Lovie moved on to become the defensive coordinator for the St Louis Rams, where he tightened up a league-worst defense en route to Super Bowl XXXVI, which the Rams lost. In 2004 he replaced Dick Jauron as head coach of the Chicago Bears and was eventually fired after missing the playoffs with a 10-6 record in 2012. He left Chicago with three NFC North titles, an 81-63 regular season record and a Super Bowl berth. In 2014 he was hired to take over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as head coach, inheriting a 4-12 trainwreck from Greg Schiano with a fractured locker room and a brand new general manager. After struggling to a 2-14 record in 2014, the Bucs improved to 6-10 in 2015, after which Smith was fired and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter was named head coach. Now, Lovie Smith is the head coach of the University of Illinois. What do you think of Lovie's coaching credentials?
I USED TO RAZZ ON LOVIE SMITH A LOT BACK IN THE DAY, BUT THAT WAS MAINLY BECAUSE I LIKE THE PACKERS AND I WAS NEVER SURE HOW THE HELL LOVIE KEPT BEATING THEM.
remember back in 2009 when the bears trailed the packers by one score and lovie called a timeout, then made an absurdly hopeless challenge on what looked like a botched fake punt on 4th down? in one play, he wasted two timeouts and a challenge and turned the ball over on downs. that does sound pretty illinois to me.
I'll evaluate it like this. When Lovie Smith was introduced as the head coach of the Chicago Bears, he stated his goals. Beat the Green Bay Packers, win the NFC North, and win the Super Bowl. He was taking over for the fired Dick Jauron, who had gone 13-3 in 2001 only to follow it up with a 4-12 campaign in 2002. Improving to 7-9 was not enough to save his job. So, Smith had stated goals and a team with some talent. His first season was a 5-11 debacle where a young Kyle Orton took most of the snaps due to a season-ending injury to Rex Grossman, but this would be his only season worse than 7-9.
- NFC North: Yes. Won the division in 2005, 2006 and 2010. 25% of his seasons were division championships.
- Super Bowl: No, but he got as close as any Bears team has gotten since the 85 squad won it all. Lost Super Bowl XL 29-17 in the rain against his mentor Tony Dungy and the Peyton Manning Colts. Rex Grossman may be among the worst quarterbacks to ever start the Super Bowl. Important to note though: one other Big Ten head coach has also been a head coach in a Super Bowl, and that is Jim Harbaugh. That's not to say Lovie Smith is Jim Harbaugh, as Harbaugh has relatively recent experience running a college program, but Harbaugh's profile is much higher nationally than it was at Stanford, and that's not all due to Michigan having a bigger following.
- Beat the Green Bay Packers: This one is more complicated, because from 2004 to 2008 Lovie's Bears (45-35 in this time) went 7-3 against the Packers (41-39 in this time). Most notably, the 2007 Packers went 13-3 with one loss to a very good Cowboys team and 2 losses to the 7-9 Bears. In 2009, however, something changed. The Bears traded a king's ransom for Jay Cutler, who has the dubious distinction of throwing at least one interception in every game he's ever played against the Packers except for last November's meeting. Though the games were often close, the Lovie Smith/Jay Cutler Bears went 1-7 against the Packers, who were 47-17 between 2009 and 2012. So I could give him a KIND OF on this one, except that the Bears lost the 2010 NFC Championship Game at home to the Packers, bringing his final mark to 8-11. However, Jay Cutler often lost those games by himself, as the Packers wins were never comfortable and Cutler's turnovers often proved decisive. It's hard to blame this on Lovie.
— Dave Wischnowsky (@wischlist) March 7, 2016
The approval rate of this hire is incredibly high, and people are excited, whether they be casual college fans, Illini diehard, or any number of my friends.