B1G football coaching hotseats - post game 7

Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

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Deep Dive of the Week - Illinois Fighting Illini


I didn't watch any B1G football this weekend as I had better things to do (moving relatives, college basketball games, clean the house). As a result some of the writeups are going to be shorter than usual. This week we dive into Illinois finances while we count down the days that some of these coaches have left in their current position.

Lovie Smith is now 17-38 at Illinois with a 10-32 conference record. I don't feel like there's a need to discuss anything else about his record at Illinois, but if you want to learn more find any of the articles written by Thumpasaurus the past few years and note the depressed tone.

Illinois isn't in as bad of financial shape due to COVID as some of the other schools on this list. For one thing their football attendance has been so poor for years that they just aren't losing the same amount of money in ticket sales as other B1G schools. For another, Illinois athletics has carried a huge debt load for years, so adding more money on top of that isn't that big of a deal. Illinois's current athletic director inherited a debt of of $260 million. Since then it's ballooned to greater than $300 million. Although Illinois is projecting at least another $20 million deficit this year, it's not like that is all that much in the grand scheme of Illinois finances.

Illinois has made several adjustments as they pursue a 2-4 year recovery from the pandemic. The pursuit of a hockey program has been put on hold. Cuts have been made to staffing with 11 vacancies unfilled, and 15 positions eliminated. Offseason international trips have been eliminated moving forward (I'm actually curious to see if this affects basketball recruiting) and travel party size adjusted for some teams. Lovie Smith, Brad Underwood, Josh Whitman and others have taken pay cuts. One thing Illinois has appeared to rule out is cutting teams. They've mentioned that it would be a last resort measure. Despite the current climate Illinois also just took on a $35 million loan from the university for basketball infrastructure. While they expect to eventually fund this fully through donations, the optics of the timing probably isn't great.

The overall health of the Illinois athletic department finances isn't great, but the one thing they have most going for them is the contract situation with Lovie Smith. When Lovie Smith was given his last extension, Josh Whitman did a tremendous job negotiating with Lovie. He kept the guaranteed money low. Although Lovie is making a decent yearly salary, he isn't guaranteed the full amount of the contract and the buyout is more than manageable for the Illini. One other thing to mention is that Illinois won't have to worry about replacing their basketball coach any time soon.

Everything comes down to whether Lovie has enough momentum to keep his position. Recruiting has been ... not good (looking like last in the conference again). Last year's 6-7 season was a high water mark for Lovie. Does the equivalent repeat of that (a 3-6 conference only season), buy Lovie another season? Can Lovie even get that 3rd win of the season? We will find out later this month.

Post B1G game 7 HC/OC/DC hot seat rankings:


  1. Michigan DC Don Brown (1). 5th season. Salary - $1.7 million/yr if you count his retention bonus. Years left on contract - 1. Buyout at end of season - $1.7 million (salary for 2021). Michigan didn't play this week. It would be better for Brown and the entire Michigan staff's job security if they didn't play this upcoming week too. Remaining games: Ohio State, crossover.

  2. Michigan Wolverines HC Jim Harbaugh (2). 6th season. Salary - $7.7 million/yr following voluntary COVID paycut (would be $8 million). Years left on contract - 1. Buyout at end of season - $6.367 million. Michigan didn't play this week and nothing has changed for Harbaugh. Rumors continue to spread about Harbaugh looking to the NFL as a lifeline. I think the odds are unchanged from last week: 60% he gets fired, 30% he takes a different (aka NFL) job, 10% he comes back with only 1 year on his contract. Remaining games: Ohio State, crossover.

  3. Illinois HC Lovie Smith (3). 5th season. Salary - $3.8 million/yr following voluntary COVID paycut (would be $4.0 million). Years left on contract - 3. Buyout at end of season - $2 million. The 35 unanswered points against Iowa wasn't a great look. I still think if Lovie wins one of these last two games he will stay. Further discussion of Illinois and Lovie above. Remaining games: Northwestern, crossover.

  4. Purdue DC Bob Diaco (4). 1st season. Salary - $625k. Years left on contract - 1. Buyout at end of season - $625k (salary for 2021). The Purdue defense made the Nebraska offense look capable. Diaco hasn't done anything to justify remaining on staff, but with it only being year 1 of the Diaco disaster and Purdue's lack of athletic money I'd rate him just below Lovie on likelihood of getting fired. Remaining games: Indiana, crossover.

  5. Nebraska DC Erik Chinander (5). 3rd season. Salary - $800k. Years left on contract - 1. Buyout at end of season - $800k (salary for 2021). Nebraska won but their defense still gave up 27 points to a one-dimensional offense. I've seen enough to know that Chinander doesn't look up to the challenge of putting together a B1G quality defense, but has Nebraska? Remaining games: Minnesota, crossover.

Others on the radar:


Michigan OC Josh Gattis (no contest). Gattis is probably a casualty of the upcoming turnover of the entire Michigan staff. I don't think he's been particularly good, but Harbaugh probably takes more of the blame for the offensive woes.

Nebraska OC Matt Lubick (win vs Purdue, offense scored 37 points). Congrats, Matt Lubick you won last week's grand-prize contest. The ability to play against a Bob Diaco defense. That's not enough by itself to keep your job.

Illinois OC Rod Smith (loss vs Iowa, offense scored 21 points). Another game, another meh Illinois offensive outing.

----------------DIVIDING LINE------------------

Minnesota DC Joe Rossi (no contest). Minnesota cancelled again. Rossi didn't have the best year (held only 1 team under 30 points), but with the cancelled games, disruptive practice season, and general COVID issues that spread throughout the team this season I think Rossi will be fine. It's not out of the question that PJ decides to move on, but I would be surprised if it happened.

Nebraska HC Scott Frost (win vs Purdue). Frost will go into year 4 having accomplished very little. Unless something changes drastically from years 1-3, it's just a question of whether he last 4 or 5 seasons. Frost's seat is hot, his contract is the equivalent of a fire suit though.

Penn State OC Kirk Ciarrocca (win vs Rutgers, offense scored 23 points). Ciarrocca and the entire PSU staff should return next year.

Penn State DC Brent Pry (win vs Rutgers, defense gave up 7 points). Pry should return next year.

Safe coaching staffs:


One half of the B1G championship game

Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan State, Maryland, Rutgers, Northwestern, Wisconsin

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