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Favorite Illini Moment of 2017-2018: Raul Rodriguez

When you realize Lovie knows what he’s doing.

Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Isaiah Williams’ commitment to the Illini in March set off a storm on college football Twitter.

Up to this point, Lovie’s Illini had been largely ignored, but on this chilly Friday morning in March, they seemingly had everyone’s attention.

We previously mentioned William’s commitment as a Favorite Illini Moment. So my favorite moment is not the commitment itself but the confluence of events that led to Illinois being the toast of Twitter in late March and, more importantly, the realization that Lovie knows what he’s doing.

From August 2015 until March 2016, Illinois entered a period of massive instability: the University suddenly fired Tim Beckman prior to fall camp, named Bill Cubit as interim coach, and then doubled down on Cubit by naming him head coach only to fire him a few weeks before spring practice, long after coaching changes are ordinarily made.

This made room for Lovie to come in as head coach, but due to the late start, Lovie was behind the eight ball from the beginning. The Illini paid the price for this instability on the field in 2016 and 2017.

As soon as the 2017 season ended, Lovie started wheeling and dealing. This included bringing in grad transfer wide receivers Shaedon Meadors from Appalachian State. On the assistant coach front Lovie capitalized on Arizona’s misfortune by hiring Rich Rodriguez’s right hand man on offense, Rod Smith, as the Illini’s new offensive coordinator to replace the much maligned Garrick McGee.

Smith then made a bold move luring in the well connected Corey Patterson to become the Illini’s tight ends coach.

With these moves, blue chip recruits started looking toward Champaign, and the nation finally took notice when Marquez Beason and Williams committed within a few weeks of each other. All of a sudden, it became apparent that Lovie knows what he was doing.

Now, Illini fans are realistic enough to understand that other programs will be coming after the March recruiting coups. The Illini have to show something on the field in 2018. Everyone understands the importance of showing progress in the fall.

Nonetheless, Lovie has pulled the right levers so far this offseason, allowing Illini fans to look at each other and sincerely say “Lovie knows what he’s doing...things are starting to come together”