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FIRE(D) DRILL: Lovie Smith out, more hiring and firing speculation from across college football

We look at the less-new-now Illinois vacancy and a few others from around college football.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Wisconsin at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Santa Lovie, we hardly—

—well no, actually, we knew thee pretty well. And most of us appreciated thee!

Problem was, most of us aren’t Illinois football fans or administrators, and it should probably be their call on that one.

Sunday, Illinois AD Josh Whitman made the call, axing the former Chicago Bears HC after he amassed a 17-39 (10-33 B1G) record across the better part of five seasons. By all accounts, it’s the on-field product and nothing to do with Lovie the person:

And so Illinois moves on, and so do we...almost. We’re going to take a look at the CBS Coaching Carousel tracker, pull out the globe, and speculate recklessly on who goes where after a spate of firings across college football.


  • Gus Malzahn (Auburn, 68-35 in eight seasons)
  • Lovie Smith (Illinois, 17-39, 10-33 B1G, one bowl game)
  • Kevin Sumlin (Arizona, 9-20 and ruined Khalil Tate in three seasons)
  • Will Muschamp (South Carolina—midseason—for Shane Beamer)
  • Derek Mason (Vanderbilt, 27-55 in seven seasons)
  • Steve Campbell (South Alabama Jaguars, 9-26 in three seasons)
  • Matt Viator (ULM Warhawks, 19-39 in five seasons)


  • Blake Anderson (left Arkansas State for Utah State after 51-37 and 2 Sun Belt titles)
  • Butch Jones (Arkansas State Red Wolves, left Florida International Panthers)
  • Will Hall (Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, from Willie Fritz tree)
  • Clark Lea (Vanderbilt, former Notre Dame DC and Vandy alumnus)

College Football Hiring and Firing, 2020

School Fired or Resigned Record # Years Hired
School Fired or Resigned Record # Years Hired
Auburn Gus Malzahn 68-35 (39-27 SEC) 8 -
Illinois Lovie Smith 17-39 (10-33 B1G) 5 -
Arizona Kevin Sumlin 9-20 (6-17 Pac-12) 3 -
South Carolina Will Muschamp 28-30 (17-22 SEC) 5* Shane Beamer (Oklahoma AHC)
Vanderbilt Derek Mason 27-55 (10-46 SEC) 7* Clark Lea (Notre Dame DC)
South Alabama Steve Campbell 9-26 3 Kane Wommack (Indiana DC)
Louisiana-Monroe Matt Viator 19-39 5 -
Utah State Gary Andersen 7-9 1.5* Blake Anderson (Arkansas State)
Southern Miss Jay Hopson, Scotty Walden 28-23 (20-12) 4 + 1 gm Will Hall (Tulane)
Arkansas State Blake Anderson (left for USU) Butch Jones (Alabama asst)

A. Lovie Smith! — What’s your...

(1) highlight, (2) lowlight, and (3) ultimate takeaway from his regime?

MC ClapYoHandz: The highlight is probably between either his awesome beard or just the general existence of Mike Dudek. Lowlight is definitely randomly finding his dead cat bounce against Wisconsin last year. It didn’t end up affecting the season at all, but come on man. Ultimately I think it’s clear Lovie is an NFL coach if he still has any juice. This should’ve really been a way better signing for Illinois and that falls on Lovie, I believe.

Stewmonkey13: So Iowa’s did hand Illinois one of the worst conference losses ever, 63-0. That may qualify as both a highlight and a lowlight.

Lovie was a fine if uninspiring hire, and brought a disappointing, if not not stable tenure. He won some conference games and made a bowl, and never finished last in the conference. Given where Illinois was, I think that’s ok. But it has also run its course.

pkloa: Penn State went 1-0 against Lovie, a 63-24 shellacking in 2018. Coach Smith just seems like a swell guy, sucks that coaching the Illini didn’t work out for him.

MNW: That wisconsin upset is obviously the highlight. Santa Lovie and the players celebrating after the game was one of those feel-good moments that have been too few and far between for Illini fans.

The lowlights have to be getting out-Fitzgeralded and out-Ferentzed every. single. time., right? Not upsetting Iowa during a standard, consistent run of play from the Hawkeyes is one thing, but not beating the ‘Cats is definitely another. Illinois is miles behind the rest of the West, and the programmatic decline under Lovie—no enthusiasm for program-building, recruiting, or selling this program—has to be the ultimate takeaway.

Thump: We got the two best post-Zook Illini moments by miles last year with the Wisconsin and Michigan State games. The beard was the glue holding that team together.

So many lowlights. The 2020 recruiting class. The season opener. Every game against Northwestern. 63-0. 63-33. Eastern Michigan. Hell, the fucking home losses to Chris Ash AND Darrell Hazell. My God.

But hiring Lovie Smith was still a great move at the time. The mistake was holding on to him after 2018. He had a low margin for error and he used it all up and then some. He just never did the things you need to do to win at this level.

B. Who should Illinois go after?

Any of these grab you?

MC Clap: Just stay away from Jim Leonhard. Actually, I’m warming up to them poaching Joe Rudolph. He’s ready!

Lance Leipold would be great for them but I question he’s that interested in the job. You don’t want Bielema unless you’re trying to spice up rivalries, he is going to play Wisconsin/Iowa ball worse than Wisconsin or Iowa.

Subquestion, what coaching changes have had bigger swings in lovability than Lovie to Bielema would be?

Stew: Should? Probably Lance Liepold, Chris Creighton, or Gus Malzahn. Hiring Bert would be funny, and far from the worst thing, as I think he’s still a step up. I would also think Monken would be pretty fun and having the triple option in conference would be great.

Thump: If we hire Bret Bielema I will literally die.

Stew: I think he’s probably better than at least the last 5 Illinois coaches.

Thump: But like, so is Danny Hope.

MC Clap: I said it before and I’ll say it again, Bielema is a great way for your program to look like Wisconsin and Iowa on the field but never eclipse them.

I like Leipold for this one.

Stew: He’s a great coach and I want him no where near Illinois.

Thump: I keep seeing takes like “well if Leipold doesn’t have a stud running qb his offense doesn’t go.” Mr. Lance can I interest you in an Isaiah Williams?

Creighton: If Bert goes to Illinois my joy will keep Thump alive though life force osmosis. You all know you want him back in the conference. Giving stupid answers to the press and getting bigger and balder every day.

pkloa: Make Malzahn, Leipold, and Bohl tell you no.

MNW: I suppose Monken’s a possibility, it just seems unlikely to have a triple option guy who seems SO set at Army wanting to move.

Leipold and Bohl feel like they’re in a similar tier to me—program-builders at out-of-the-way G5 stops who probably have the chops to do it, but who would be fighting a helluva uphill battle in a Big Ten West where you’ve got wisconsin, Iowa, and—yes—Northwestern every year.

Malzahn seems like a pipe dream, but I’ve been wrong before, I suppose.

If I were naming a couple semi-outside names:

  • Joe Moorhead: Former Penn State and current Oregon OC, obviously, who got railroaded by the unreasonable expectations at Mississippi State. Knows the conference, brings a creative-if-YOLO-oriented offense, doesn’t have to worry about his “Yankee ass” upsetting anyone’s delicate sensibilities.
  • Jay Norvell: Current Nevada Wolf Pack coach whose stock is up—rebuilt that program after Brian Polian ruined it, with bowl eligibility three straight years and a high-flying offense. Iowa alum with stops at wisconsin, Iowa State, and Nebraska as well as an OC.



Who will be the next Illinois HC?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Gus Malzahn
    (51 votes)
  • 7%
    Joe Moorhead
    (29 votes)
  • 7%
    Jeff Monken
    (31 votes)
  • 25%
    Lance Leipold
    (101 votes)
  • 7%
    Jay Norvell
    (31 votes)
  • 25%
    Bret Bielema
    (100 votes)
  • 1%
    Craig Bohl
    (6 votes)
  • 11%
    Someone else (comments!)
    (44 votes)
393 votes total Vote Now

C. Coaching carousel: Replace any and all of the jobs listed above.

MC Clap: See B.

pkloa: Matt Campbell to Auburn, Justin Fuente to Arizona, Shane Beamer to VA Tech, Jim Harbaugh decides to take a year off backpacking in Chile, Mario Cristobal takes over at Michigan and Bill O’Brien lets Nike do his recruiting at Oregon.

Candystripes: On the tangentially related but not actually addressing any of your questions level, South Alabama is hiring IU DC Kane Wommack as their new head coach, and I’m not super happy about it (even though it makes all the sense in the world for him, and it’s probably a good first HC job too).

Stew: Sounds like Vandy has their guy, and I’m guessing Auburn goes after Hugh Freeze, because lol. Malzahn seems like the perfect fit in Arizona.

Meanwhile, if USCe can snag Chadwell from the Chants, that would be quite the coup.

Thump: South Carolina hired Shane Beamer.

Stew: lol, damn. Spurrier really was an outlier for that program.

MNW: Yeah, I think Matt Campbell to Auburn is a really interesting one. I don’t know why the Tigers would go for Billy Napier just yet—I don’t know that Louisiana-to-Auburn is a move I love, but they did strike gold with one year of success for Malzahn at Arkansas State. Been a lot of rumors about Mario Cristobal of Oregon heading to Auburn, too, which feels a little bizarre to me.

If Arizona’s not giving Jay Norvell a call, they’re dumber than dumb, though I hear good things about a coach in Hawaii who knows the state. (Also in actual rumors, perhaps Kalani Sitake of BYU is headed to Tucson.)

Vandy and SCar both have their guys, and I’m a little surprised to see Wommack having to settle (in my mind) for South Alabama. At 33, though, I’m sure there’s a bit of dues-paying you have to do first, and Indiana no doubt still lacks that cache.

D. Who’s next?

Tom Herman (Texas) and the vote of confidence, Billy Napier (Louisiana) headed somewhere, Jim Harbaugh (Michigan) being fired...?

MC Clap: I do get the impression Harbaugh and Michigan will “mutually part ways.” You can’t go into next year on the last year of a deal, and I don’t know that an extension for an appropriate number of years is on the way.

MNW: If Texas actually fires Herman...does Illinois give him a look?

Stew: Michigan, come on down! Sounds like their fanbase is pining for [Iowa St. Cyclones HC Matt] Campbell.

[In the wake of the news that Northwestern AD Jim Phillips was taking the ACC Commissioner job, there was a lot of discussion about Pat Fitzgerald leaving Northwestern Wildcats for the newly-open AD job, the Chicago Bears job, or some combination of all three.]

Stew: That nicest facility on all of college football is something that every program touts, you know. But I’m sure it’s actually true for jNW.

WSR: It certainly isn’t at Bama or Clemson or LSU.

What with waterfalls and sleep pods at their lockers at the practice facilities and whatnot. A pretty view of a lake is much better.

Andrew K: Wait wait so is it Fitz to Bears, Harbaugh to Loins, or vice versa?


What happens first?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Herman out at Texas
    (46 votes)
  • 50%
    Harbaugh out at Michigan
    (129 votes)
  • 20%
    Napier leaves Louisiana for less-spicy gumbo pots
    (53 votes)
  • 11%
    Fitz leaves for the Bears or Lions or something
    (29 votes)
257 votes total Vote Now