Stephen Cohn: So Rod Smith has been named Illinois’ new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Obviously he has a steep hill to climb with one of the least potent offenses in the country and questions at quarterback, so what do we think? With the incoming QB(s?) and Cam Thomas, I think Smith has some good stuff to work with and can be mildly successful as soon as 2018.
Austin Jabs: Hey, #3 rushing team in the country last year. Illinois can’t pass, so let’s run all over the field. I like it. FYI, I’m not joking. I really like the hire. It isn’t splashy, but it is smart and plays to the strengths of this team.
Stephen Cohn: Agreed. I don’t think I would’ve liked a spread offense kind of coach, someone like a Matt Canada just because it’s going to take a lot more building to have a passing attack for the Illini. Focusing on the strengths — rushing, quick quarterbacks and a good line — should make the wins come quicker and the team possibly more successful.
Austin Jabs: I love the idea of a spread offense, the idea of your game time mentality being we may give up 30 PPG, but we are gonna score 45 so who cares. The problem with a Canada hire would have been the personnel, or lack thereof. This team does not have a huge assortment of talent, but what they seem to have is some guys who can run the ball. That plays to the strength of Smith and his scheme.
Stephen Cohn: WAIT THERE’S MORE! Illinois now also has Cory Patterson coming in to coach tight ends. Let’s add this to the equation and Illinois’ staff continues to look even better.
Austin Jabs: Illinois takes two open hires, and in my opinion, does better than most fans probably expected. Patterson immediately sets up a pipeline with talent rich St Louis. Sign Scheelhaase full time and you have a very well rounded coaching staff.
Brandon Birkhead: I’d love to see Scheelhaase stay on, possibly as the QB Coach, but with Scheelhaase’s since deleted “loyalty goes both ways” tweet, I’m not sure if he’ll be sticking around, sadly.
As far as hiring Cory Patterson, that’s a fantastic piece of work by Lovie Smith. Patterson will be the tight ends coach, but let’s be honest, he a recruiter, and his former HS team has some big time recruits in the class of 2019:
4* QB/ATH: Isaiah Williams
4* WR: Marcus Washington
4* LB: Chammond Cooper
3* OL: Ira Henry
3* RB: Alphonzo Andrews
If Patterson can bring 3 or more of the above, his hire will have been an absolute home run.
Stephen Cohn: But that’s also a place that Smith will likely be able to contribute in ways that we didn’t see before. Garrick McGee was pretty publicly known to be an awful recruiter, and it makes you question how many of the current ‘Lovie guys’ were really recruited by McGee. Add what Lovie and the rest of the staff has been able to do to someone like Smith, and you might be in business.
One thought I had here, however, is that I think this is a shift away from Illinois’ focus on NFL coaches in the coaching staff. You go from the most experienced NFL staff in the country to one hiring a high school coach like Patterson. Is that a concern for anyone?
Brandon Birkhead: The tight ends will be fine. Also, there wouldn’t be a tight ends coach if it wasn’t required to be a spot to hire a recruiter.
Also one of my big concerns about Lovie Smith initially was that his staff was full of NFL guys, and I questioned their ability to recruit and build relationships with high school coaches when many of them hadn’t had those responsibilities in years. Coaching up talent is important, but it is not as important as bringing in the best talent possible in the first place.
Give me the next “Juice” in Isaiah Williams and I’m happy with Patterson.
Austin Jabs: Agreed, Brandon. I like getting Patterson in purely from a familiarity standpoint with younger kids. Being in the high school ranks, he may have more of a connection with some of the younger talent than some of the NFL counterparts. That is not to say that the rest of the coaching staff is ‘bad’ at recruiting, but if you let Patterson focus on the St Louis area and let Ward focus on building Chicago, this could be an incredibly smart move by Coach Lovie Smith.
In regards to the Smith hire, I love the running aspect of his offense, but it seems he has yet to truly develop a passing quarterback. Should that be of concern?
Brad Repplinger: Let’s not forget that Rod Smith does not have a whole lot of play-calling experience. After watching Garrick slug the offense through games, shouldn’t we be hesitant to call this a “win” before we see how Smith calls games?
Brandon Birkhead: This is exactly why I’m hesitant on this hire, Brad. With Rod Smith not even calling the plays for Arizona under Rich Rodriguez, how much credit should be given to Smith for the great Arizona offense, and how much goes to Rich Rod?
Rich Rod practically invented the modern college football offense — not an exaggeration — and is one of the smartest offensive minds in the history of college football. Working with Rodriguez certainly had to teach Rod Smith a lot. Hopefully we will be seeing the up-tempo run-based spread system in Champaign, but can Rod Smith call successful games in that system? What separates the average offensive coordinator from the good is play calling, and Rod Smith doesn’t bring along Rich Rod’s play calling with him.
But hey, at least it can’t be worse than Garrick McGee’s offense.
Brad Repplinger: *pours one out for Garrick’s offense* One thing I do like thinking about is Smith’s involvement in Arizona’s passing offense over the past five seasons. The Arizona Wildcats did see a jump in quarterback production during his tenure, including team scoring records and two of the top six passing attacks in their school’s history. If nothing else, you’ve brought in someone that will want to win games scoring points instead of shutting down opponents. Hopefully that will result in more exciting football games. I’m sick of watching the Illinois offense struggle to put 10 points on the board.
Austin Jabs: I will have to say thank you to Brandon. You informed me a few months ago when I joked about how I could call plays for Louisville as long as Lamar Jackson was there and be successful, but you let me know that McGee did not call plays during his time in Louisville, so thank you. That is not a shot at McGee, just a general remark. That is one reason why that there should be a little apprehension in regard to Smith, as the play calling may not be there like we hoped for. As long as he calls more plays than the fifteen or so McGee did, it should be a success.
Brad Repplinger: Where do y’all suppose Smith’s offensive scheme will rank at the end of the 2018 football season?
Brandon Birkhead: Ehhhhhhh, probably still bottom two or three in the Big Ten, but improved — at 15.3 points per game it almost has to.
There are still a bunch of questions at QB — though Cam Thomas could really benefit from this hire — and at offensive line. You could see a way this scheme and the talent in place could come together quite well, but there are a bunch of “if this happens” statements that need to prove accurate for the offensive to be a big success.