Heading into his third season as head coach, the general consensus in Champaign is that Lovie Smith needs to provide on-the-field results, and Smith knows that too.
On Tuesday at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago, Smith said that this season will provide some results for his young football team.
“When you start 15 true freshmen and one redshirt freshman, it kind of tells you where you are and what you’re doing with your program, and that’s where we are” Smith said. “Those players got a lot of valuable experience last year. We’ve seen them get bigger, stronger, faster off the field and just their football minds have grown quite a bit.
“Year three will produce results for some of the things we’ve done.”
The wins haven’t been there. A 5-19 record in his two years at Illinois doesn’t look good on paper for a head coach that was brought on with the largest contract in school history. But a complete overhaul was in need for the Illini when the Smith tenure began and these have been the results of that process.
But Smith said the wins will come.
“We realize we haven’t won enough football games. But they come if you continue to do the right things,” Smith said. “We’ve changed the culture of our program. We know the look that we would like to have on the football field. And, again, we’re anxious to get to year three.”
Smith continued to preach the importance of experience when it comes to his team and what kind of results the Illini will produce. Behind the scenes, these once true freshmen — now sophomores — have improved.
And even in the midst of a 2-10 season, Smith felt that his team competed, with only three games he felt Illinois did not have a chance of winning. This year, another step will need to be taken.
Upgrades are being made on the field as the talent level has improved significantly, but also upgrades are being made off the field.
Much needed facilities upgrades are coming to the football program over the next year.
“We’re really excited about our state-of-the-art facility that we’ll be moving into this time next year,” Smith said. “Should really get us up to par with the rest of the teams and really kind of go past them.”
Sustaining talent is just as important as acquiring it and Smith and his staff are putting the necessary time and effort in to keeping the best football players in-state. But that hasn’t always gotten the job done with Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck and his program having strong success with pulling in-state recruits away from Illinois.
Smith feels that even though they have lost players in-state, he and his staff will still keep players not too far from home.
“With our first class... the recruiting areas we need to be strong in, of course, Chicago is right at the top of that. We will put a lot of time and effort into trying to keep our best players in the state. Of course, the guys from Chicago,” Smith said. “Of course, other schools know what type of talent we have in our high school program. And that’s a chore. We’ve lost a few guys here in our state, but the University of Illinois is the right place for a lot of people.
“We’ll get our share. And in time we need to be able to keep the guys in our state here as much as anything. But, again, we recognize what’s up here, and we’ll continue to recruit it hard.”
Smith likes where his program is sitting heading into year three of the rebuild, even though he acknowledges that he needed to provide more wins and do a better job of coaching in his first two seasons.
But those seasons are done and year three is the one where Smith feels results will be made both on and off the field.
“In an ideal world, we wanted to have more wins right now,” Smith said. “But I like where we are. Now that’s behind us, I like how we’re sitting year three. And this is when we expect to see results.”