5 worst Illinois football coaching hires in program history

Throughout the history of the Illinois football program, we have hit some land mines when it comes to coaching hires.
Iowa v Illinois
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4. Lovie Smith - 2016-20

  • 17-39 overall
  • 30.4% win (5th worst)
  • 6-7 best season
  • 1 bowl appearance
  • 0 bowl wins

Some of the worst coaches in Illinois football history happened recently. The last decade has been a crazy time for the program, and hiring Lovie Smith in 2016 hoped to be the cure.

That didn’t end up being the case, though. Lovie’s tenure with the program never fully got off the ground, as his recruiting and coaching never meshed well.

Illinois fired Tim Beckman the year before and inserted Bill Cubit in the head coaching job. He lasted one season and in stepped athletic director Josh Whitman. Illinois needed a shot in the arm, and Whitman moved quickly. He let Cubit go and hired Lovie in the first month on the job.

Lovie had some good recruiting classes, and he brought in a few high-level players we weren't able to snag in the past. But his coaching style wasn’t tailored for the college game. The best season Lovie had was in 2019 when the Illini had a great run at the end to make a bowl game at 6-6. We lost that bowl game, dropping the record to 6-7 that season.

In the five seasons Lovie was in Champaign, he finished with an overall record of 17-39, which is a 30.4% winning rate. That ranks as the No. 5 worst winning percentage in Illinois football history.

As a new athletic director, I understand trying to make a splash head coaching hire. Lovie was not the answer, though.