Before Lovie Smith was named the head man for the Fighting Illini football program before the 2016 season, Illinois was in a rough spot. They made a total of one bowl game in four years, which they lost, and never finished with a winning record during that time frame. Off the field, Illinois is behind on their facilities, which are crucial in reeling in top recruits in today’s era.
Coming in, the excitement for a coach that had experienced so much success with the Chicago Bears was palpable. However, after two years and a 5-19 overall record, is it time for Lovie Smith to start feeling the heat of needing to win now?
While I do agree that posting a 5-19 record in two years is less than ideal, one could argue that Illinois’ time is now to start making bowl games on a consistent basis which could lead to contending for Big Ten Championships a few years down the road.
There is an abundance of young talent on the roster, and with Lovie Smith’s ability to continue to recruit at a high level, as well as the new facility coming in the summer of 2019, the future is extremely bright for Illinois football.
It is very cliche to say that Illinois must “trust the process” but it could not be any truer. Smith and the Illini are in the midst of a major rebuild that is going to take time and as evidenced by the first two years on the job Smith knows that more than anyone.
Being able to balance the understanding that the rebuild is going on but also knowing that the fans want to see Illinois put a winning product on the field is tough for a head coach. Although the first two years might not have gone his way, Smith believes that this year the team will put more wins on the board.
At Big Ten Media Day, he said, “Getting out of the gate early on, getting momentum, and then we’ll see. I just know that we’re a better football team right now and normally with my history it said that shows results during the course of the year.”
With 15 returning starters from last year’s team and a whole offseason to get stronger and faster physically while gaining knowledge mentally should pay huge dividends for the Illini this season.
Lovie Smith is truly in an uncommon position for a head coach to be in. There is pressure to win now but also knows that the best days for the program are down the road. Ideally, I believe that a realistic win total for it to be considered a successful season for Illinois would be four or five wins. I think that a bowl game, while possible, would be exceeding expectations in year three of the Lovie Smith era in Champaign, Illinois.
If Smith has another two or three-win campaign, then questions about his job security will get more serious and rightly so. Year number three is not about Illinois all of a sudden vaulting their way to the top of the Big Ten standings, but it is time for them to win more than two or three games.
Follow Donald on Twitter: @_donaldkane –Feature Photo Credit: AP