(CBS) In the matter of three days, new Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman has reinvigorated interest in the football program.
In a stunning move, Whitman fired Bill Cubit on Saturday and had former Bears coach Lovie Smith lined up to take over. On Monday, Smith’s hiring became official with a six-year, $21-million deal, and Whitman viewed the change essentially as a no-brainer.READ MORE: 'What It Takes To Convict': A Former State Prosecutor And Retired Judge On The Derek Chauvin Verdict
Cubit had received a two-year deal in late November to be the head coach after he took over as interim coach in late August.
“It happened very, very quickly as you could imagine,” Whitman said in an interview on the Mully and Hanley Show on Monday morning. “We have been in contact with Lovie for maybe a week or more, just wanted to gauge his interest and get a sense of if this was something, if it were available that we would have an interest in tackling. You never want to make this kind of move at this particular point in time unless you have a good sense of the direction that you want to go on the back end of it. For me, Lovie is just absolutely the right person at the right moment for our program. When we saw we had an opportunity to get a coach of his caliber, it was just an absolute home run for us.”
Whitman’s sole connection to Smith came through Ron Turner, whom Whitman played for at Illinois in the late 1990s and who was the Bears’ offensive coordinator under Smith. It was Turner who put Whitman and Smith in contact.
As for the criticism of searching for a new coach with another one already under contract and players finding the news out on social media, Whitman essentially shrugged. When making a move in March, there’s really no other way to go about it, he said.READ MORE: Law Professor Sharon Fairley: Derek Chauvin Verdict In George Floyd's Death Will Be 'Defining Moment' For Many Young People, Sends Message About What's Possible In Chicago
“You always have to have a plan and before we were going to make a change with football, we had to have some confidence that we had a good solution on the other side,” Whitman said. “If there wasn’t mutual interest coming from Lovie, then I think we might’ve gone a different direction with the football situation. But once we had some level of confidence that there was that interest, then we were able to move forward fairly quickly.
“I still have yet for anybody to tell me how we could’ve handled that differently. The way information travels today, as soon as I told Bill Cubit what we were doing, by the time I got back to my office, we were already being called by the media.”
Smith had a 92-90 mark, including the playoffs, in 11 seasons as a head coach in the NFL, with nine spent leading the Bears and two in charge of the Bucs. He coached in the collegiate ranks from 1983-’95 as an assistant.
Smith’s personality and his connections from having coached in Chicago and Florida and also being a Texas native give Whitman confidence that he can recruit well.
“There’s not a living room in America that wouldn’t open their doors to Lovie Smith and his staff,” Whitman said. “It immediately puts us in the conversation from a recruiting standpoint and getting in front of the best players across the country.”MORE NEWS: Anxiety, Then Relief At South Side Shoeshine Shop As Guilty Verdict Is Read Against Derek Chauvin In Death Of George Floyd
Listen to Whitman’s full interview below.