Lovie Smith “Miserable” with Illini Claims ESPN, Coach Responds

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All bets are off with Lovie Smith and the Illini football program; both literally and figuratively. The line for Michigan State at Illinois on November 5th opened briefly with the Spartans as 9 1/2 point favorites, but then quickly went off the boards. There is no spread, at all, on the game at any major leading sport book right now.

Vegas simply does not mess around. They are all business so when instances like this occur, something is definitely up.

That something might be Smith being “miserable” in Champaign according to ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg.

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From Rittenberg: (word of warning it’s one of those annoying and outdated business model “Insider” stories that you have to pay for in order to access, yeah, ok World Wide Leader, good luck with that one) :

Several industry sources say that Smith is miserable in Champaign.

Yes, every 2-6 coach is miserable, but this situation is especially sour — and that the rebuilding job looks much greater than he anticipated. Could Lovie be one-and-done? A source close to Smith says no and that while the rebuild is extreme, Smith should be rejuvenated after signing his own recruiting class.

Then again, if the NFL expresses renewed interest in Smith, all bets are off.

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Very interesting that Rittenberg used that exact phrase “all bets are off.” Smith answered the allegation that he is “miserable” in Champaign today at his weekly press availability.

“Am I happy right now with where we are? No,” Smith said in regards to the report that he is unhappy and unsettled. “No one on our football team is happy where we are right now. Our time in Champaign is bigger than where we are right now.
“Our football team, we’re going to win a lot of games eventually. There’s not much more than that. Not many of us should be happy about where we are right now. We’re going to do something to fix it together.”

Lovie Smith also responded (sort of, kind of) to the idea that he could leave Champaign after just one season: “I would not get into speculation.”

Smith made those comments shortly after 1 pm central on Monday. Then his official Twitter account posted these two “vote of confidence” style messages just before 7pm:

Is he just proverbially “saying all the right things?” Or he is genuinely “telling it like it is” in these Tweets? Only Lovie Smith can certainly say for sure, but the red flags are certainly present. Actually, the warning signs have been there all along. You knew the day that Smith was hired that he could jump ship if given the right NFL opportunity.

That’s not really news.

Also, the “Would Lovie Smith be able to/want to adjust from the NFL lifestyle to Champaign-Urbana” and “Will he want to go out and recruit?” narratives have been persistent re-occurring themes all spring, summer and preseason. These narratives have consistently found their way into his press conferences all year long.

Secondly, the embattled Illinois Coach has clearly become less “media-friendly” as the season has worn on. In the preseason, Smith was more jovial and light-hearted in his media sessions, but in the past month, he’s had at least a couple defensive, rather testy back-and-forths with reporters.

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Now while that naturally occurs during disastrous football seasons everywhere, it is also an obvious sign of discontent and discord. Smith has also grown more uncooperative in disclosing news regarding the health of his players. Of course, all football coaches try to avoid leaking player injury news, it’s just part of the game, but Smith has moved closer and closer to the Bill Belichick paradigm as the season progressed (or should I say regressed).

Finally, and perhaps most important of all, this season has been an absolute disaster. Even the most pessimistic members of the Illini football community, the biggest Lovie Smith skeptics, could not have forecasted this train wreck. At 2-6, and very unlikely to be favored in any of the four remaining contests this season, it’s very probable that the team finishes 2-10 this season.

That ugly record would “match” that of Smith’s predecessor, Tim Beckman, in his debut season of 2012. (Yes, technically, on paper, Bill Cubit was Smith’s predecessor, but c’mon man, you know that Cubit was always pretty much a glorified interim)

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Smith, as well as the entire Illini football community for that matter, will all have to proverbially dig their heels firmly in the ground for a very long rebuild. This team is just very very far away from being even decent, let alone a winner, and that takes at least two or three years minimum to turn around.

I seriously doubt Lovie is one-and-done in Champaign. Two years and gone? That’s entirely possible if 2017 goes as poorly as 2016. Three and out? That’s very possible if no progress is made during that time. As bleak as it is right now, things could get worse before they get better.

Is Lovie Smith committed to staying at the U of I long term to make that turnaround finally happen?

Like we said before, wagering on this idea is currently suspended.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, partnered with FOX Sports Engage Network. and News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, currently contributes regularly to the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye publication and Bold Global.

He also consistently appears on numerous radio and television talk shows all across the country. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and Sound Cloud.

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