New Fighting Illini head coach Lovie Smith addressed national media members on Tuesday at Big Ten Conference Media Days, and he had quite a bit to say. The most notable quote came when Smith was asked about Illinois' brand presence in Chicago, to which he responded, "I think [Illinois] is Chicago's Big Ten Team."
We'll have a lengthier write-up on Smith's press conference later today, but for now here's the full transcript and some quick takeaways from the morning.
LOVIE SMITH: First off, it's an honor and a privilege to get a chance to be the head football coach for the University of Illinois. From my time up north, I had an opportunity to look at our university from afar and just kind of believing what stood for -- great academics and a lot of potential with our football team.
The past six months, I've had an opportunity to of course go across and spread our brand. As much as anything, get an opportunity to get to know our football players. We have three players representing our university -- Dawuane Smoot, Wes Lunt and Ke'Shawn Vaughn -- that will be leading our team this year. So we couldn't be more excited to have an opportunity to play in the Big Ten, a conference that goes -- you think about some of the top teams competing for championships each year.
We're not there yet. But in time we would like to be a part of that conversation also.
I would also like to express -- just like to give our prayers to the University of Nebraska and Michigan State on the loss of two of their football players. You just never know each day, but to live like it's your last day but when you lose two young men like that, of course it's tragic.
Again, we're excited about starting our football season. Next week, we get a chance -- we've gone through spring ball, get a chance to get out on the football field. Our coaching staff is pretty excited.
I'm excited about Garrick McGee leading our offense and Hardy Nickerson leading our defense and Bob Ligashesky leading our special teams as our coaches. So again a lot of excitement.
We feel like we're Chicago's team, and also we have a lot of alumni here so it's good to be here. Questions?
Q. Obviously the test is going to be winning games, but just how much has your job been about changing perceptions, how much has it been like that already and how much of a role do you have to take on that change the fans's perception of the program right now?
LOVIE SMITH: It's been a lot of that. I knew coming in we had to sell our brand and Josh Whitman, our athletic director, and I have covered quite a bit of ground speaking with our fans, our alumni, letting them know about the new day.
They're the rebirth of our program. So it is a lot about that. But eventually, as you also mentioned, it will come down to what we do on the football field. We realize that.
We realize we have to put a better product on the football field. It's as simple as that. That's why again I'm excited about the players we have. When you come into a new situation, a new team and you have a lot of seniors that have played a lot of football, it gives you hope, and that's what we have.
Q. You mentioned being Chicago's team. So I know you can't name players' names, but how has the recruiting process in Chicago gone so far?
LOVIE SMITH: The recruiting process overall has gone well. We had some areas that we have identified. But in order for us to do well we need to do well in the Chicago area. And why wouldn't you want to do well? A lot of great athletes here.
As you say, without mentioning names I'll say recruiting has gone well. They're listening to us. And that's all we want. Give us a chance. Not just Chicago area. There's a triangle of the St. Louis area, of course. And Indianapolis there's a triangle. I'm from Texas.
So we'll, of course, recruit that area. We have a lot of players on our team from the Florida area also. So recruiting is going well. And it's been a while since I've been in college ball. That has changed a little bit. It is a 24/7 job. And we're embracing that.
Q. I've seen where Dawuane Smoot is ranked really high among college football players nationally. What's he like as a player and as a guy?
LOVIE SMITH: He should be ranked high, first. Everything you're looking for in a player. He's very coachable. First off, he has unbelievable talent. And as a defensive end you want to know can he rush the passer? He can rush the passer. No one works harder than him.
Good leader. We haven't voted on captains yet. He, of course, will be one of our captains. And nowadays, too, you don't see a lot of players staying four years. He had an opportunity to come out last year. He chose to come back. He loves the university that much. And I personally, we can't wait to coach him this year.
Q. How receptive were the players to your message? You've got a lot of kids on that roster and squad that have heard a lot of voices and a lot of different messages. They've gone through a lot. How did they accept you?
LOVIE SMITH: Full acceptance, from day one, from my initial meeting they've embraced everything we've asked them to do. In a message from them has been, Coach, tell us what we need to do.
And as a coach that's all you want. You want guys to buy in right away and give you a chance. We feel like we have a formula. We have a plan for winning football.
We all have a history, and our players have embraced that on everything we've asked them to do from spring ball to summer workouts. But it's about this next step and we'll really see if they've embraced what we've fed them.
Q. What are the biggest differences you've seen from between your current job and coming from the NFL?
LOVIE SMITH: Well, I think it's easy to talk about recruiting. Not a whole lot -- a small free agency period in the NFL. And this is a year-round sport in itself in recruiting. That's going to change.
I knew that coming in. I knew we had a good product. So I knew we would be able to sell that. But not just recruiting, per se, for the current class, but how soon recruiting starts as far as recruiting an athlete. It's not about him going into his senior year. Of course, it's a lot earlier than that.
Again, we've embraced it. It has been nonstop. But again when you have a good product, you like talking about it. And again now it's about developing the -- we talk about developing the entire athlete, the man. And people are embracing that a little bit. I can't say that I haven't enjoyed it; I really have.
Q. You haven't coached in college in 22 years. In the interview with Josh, did that come up at all? Or is that, in your mind, mitigated by obviously NFL and Super Bowl and everything else?
LOVIE SMITH: Before Josh called, he knew my background. And I just think you talk about coaching, whether it's the NFL -- I'm not the only NFL coach that's coaching in college right now. Whether it's coaching junior high, high school, college or the NFL, I haven't seen many differences from it.
Guys want to be coached. You have a different degree of athlete at every level. And for us, even when I was in the NFL I considered myself a college coach. And I'm talking about stressing fundamentals, trying to develop, of having a personal relationship with our players in the NFL, just like we will in college. Josh knew that.
And this is the plan and the direction that he wanted to go and we've enjoyed every moment of it.
Q. Talk a little bit about recruiting and how it's changed since you were doing it last. And is it a different style as far as the players that you're talking to?
LOVIE SMITH: Again, as a new coach, I probably can't answer that. I just know how we do it. Again, at every level. My last time around, I do remember my days back then, and you had to sell your program on how you would do things.
It's pretty simple. That's how we're laying it out right now, we're laying it out that way. Nowadays there's a lot more information you can get. So when you initially start those conversations they know a lot about you right away.
We all have a history that you can really research, but for me this is who I am. I don't feel like I'm a phony. I let people know how we're going to do things. And, again, players can get information from players that we have, to get the information they need.
So that's how we're doing it. We feel like once people really listen to how we're going to do things and see how we coach on a daily basis, that people will want to get onboard with that.
Q. Ke'Shawn Vaughn is here representing your team as a sophomore. What does that say about your thoughts about him, just the fact that he's here representing this team at such a young age?
LOVIE SMITH: Ke'Shawn has heard quite a bit, and whenever I get a chance to talk about our football team, I talk about Ke'Shawn. You know, now we talk a lot about recruiting.
And I'm looking at a lot of different video with a lot of different guys coming out. For Ke'Shawn Vaughn I even went back and watched his high school video coming out, and he was a great player then. And I think he's a great player now. I know he's young, but you can tell really good football players at a young age.
I think he can do it all. I think he can run in between the tackles. He can make you miss in the open field. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He has a little bit of size to him. We'll ask him to block from time to time, too.
Just excited about Wes Lunt, handing him the ball. And again it's just not about Ke'Shawn. As I mentioned, as I look at our program we had a senior quarterback who makes great decisions. I'm talking about Wes Lunt, that gets you excited also.
Q. When you look at your team, where are you like -- you talked about you want to be in the conversation. But definitely, where are the places you're lacking right now in your opinion?
LOVIE SMITH: Instead of the places we're lacking, as I look at our roster coming in, I talked about our senior quarterback. You want to know what you have at the quarterback position in order to have success.
We have three senior offensive linemen. That gets you excited. I mentioned Ke'Shawn Vaughn, our running back. We'll have a fullback on our roster this year also. But the strength of our football team is our defensive line. And whenever you get an opportunity, you know it starts up front.
I'm a head coach that calls what we've done on the defensive side of the football, I realize that. And also just talking about the positives and the pluses for our team.
To be able to get a player like Hardy Nickerson, Jr., is kind of a cherry on top also. And Jaylen Dunlap as a corner is a good player. We're going to talk more about that. I think we have good marquee players at every position. We don't have as much depth as we will have eventually. And hopefully we'll get lucky on some injuries and we'll be okay.
- Illinois football has a pretty good coach
- Lovie thinks that Illinois is Chicago's Big Ten Team
- Recruiting is going well, prospects are listening to the staff's selling points
- Biggest difference between NFL and college is recruiting
- Lovie is excited to coach senior DE Dawuane Smoot
- Sophomore RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn has been, and continues to be great
- Wes Lunt is continuing to improve under new OC Garrick McGee
- Returning Players brought into the new regime on Day 1
- The depth chart is a problem, but Lovie expects it to improve over time