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10 Moments that Defined Illinois Football: Whitman extends Lovie’s contract

Whitman’s mix of decisiveness and patience should pay future dividends.

When coaches are hired to rebuild a college football program, there are certain things they have to get right off the bat. Among these things, they have to hire a coaching and administrative staff to help implement their vision, they have to make recruiting inroads early, and they have to mold the roster they inherit to fit their vision while effectively recruiting the players that will help them take the program to the next level. In today’s impatient college football world, coaches who get these things wrong early in their tenure are usually fired by year 3 or 4 of their tenure — when these early mistakes manifest themselves on the field.

Yes, Lovie got a pass for early mistakes...

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s be frank: Lovie has gotten a lot wrong his first three years on the job. His initial offensive and defensive coordinator hires failed miserably. His development of the roster he inherited from the Beckam/Cubit regime has been poor. His early recruiting classes have hardly produced as several of the promising stars from those classes were shown the door halfway through this season. All in all, most ADs would not have given Lovie a pass for these early failures. At the same time, impatient ADs and fanbases greatly destabilize programs when they fire coaches too early in their tenures.

...But, Whitman’s patience and decisiveness could pay off

A few hours after the loss to Northwestern, Whitman surprisingly extended Lovie’s contract two more years up to 2023. In doing so, Whitman gave Lovie an opportunity to learn from and fix the latter’s early mistakes — a rare opportunity in the college football world. Let’s not forget, some of these mistakes have been fixed with the hiring of Rod Smith and Cory Patterson.

Illini fans can argue for hours about whether Lovie deserves this opportunity, but Whitman’s long-term commitment to seeing the Lovie experiment through could pay dividends even if Lovie ultimately fails as Illini coach.

Some fans will say that, by extending Lovie, Whitman is just doubling down on his mistake. They could be right in that there’s likely a component of self-preservation with Whitman’s move. Nonetheless, the Lovie extension sent a signal to coaches around the country that Illinois is place that will give a coach time to implement their vision and see it through. Illinois is also a place that will give a coach the opportunity to atone for early mistakes. In other words, Illinois is a place that can handle—and will not succumb to— the noise.

More importantly, in Whitman, Illinois has an AD who is both patient and decisive. He did not leave room for anyone to doubt his belief in Lovie. Regardless of whether Lovie ultimately succeeds or not, Whitman’s patience — as well as his quick and decisive action — should pay dividends in the future, either in the form of Lovie succeeded or having the asset of patience to lure a future football coach search.

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