Whitman On Smith's Extension: Stability Needed

"This is a long-term build," athletic director Josh Whitman says. "We know that."

Bernstein & McKnight Show
November 26, 2018 - 1:40 pm
Illinois football coach Lovie Smith

Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports

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(670 The Score) A day after giving football coach Lovie Smith a two-year extension through the 2023 season, Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman cited a variety of factors in making the somewhat surprising decision.

Illinois wanted to ensure it could retain the 80 freshmen and sophomores on the current team that Whitman called "game tested" as well as sell new incoming recruits on the vision in place. Beyond that, Whitman felt an extension for Smith would put any concerns at ease with the coaching staff and help attract new assistants.

"We thought that sending that message of stability and support from the administration was important and would put Coach and everyone else in that building in the frame of mind and the strongest position to go out and get those things done in this offseason," Whitman said.

Complete terms of Smith's new contract haven't been publicly revealed. That includes details on the buyout provision, which is important in that it represents what Illinois would owe Smith if it decided to part ways with him before the end of his deal. 

Asked directly about the buyout, Whitman responded, "We're still finalizing a lot of those terms." 

The Illini have struggled mightily in Smith's three-year tenure, going 9-27. Illinois just completed a 4-8 season in which it went 2-7 in Big Ten play. The program has gone 4-23 in conference play under Smith.

Despite that, Whitman is a believer in Smith and the long-term outlook. Does that mean he expects to be a winning team in 2019?

"We're in a strong position to do that, absolutely," Whitman said. "I think we're in a good spot heading into Year 4 of this era to be in a position to go out and absolutely compete every week that we take the field. I think we'll be in a position to go out and have every expectation that we can win every game that we play. I'm not saying we're going to go 12-0, but I think when our guys step between the lines, they have every right to feel like they can go toe-to-toe with the person on the other side from them and that we're going to win our share.

"This is a long-term build. We know that."