Asmussen | Lovie should hire ... Lovie

Asmussen | Lovie should hire ... Lovie

I can save Illinois football a lot of time, trouble and money in its search for the next defensive coordinator.

He is already on the staff. Knows defense as well as any coach. And he gets along with the boss. Most times.

Lovie Smith should hire Lovie Smith.

"I know him really well," Smith said during Monday's press conference. "We're on the same page on a lot of things."

Can't beat the price (zero dollars). Human resource has his paperwork done.

It's a no-brainer.

Smith took over last week as coordinator after the sudden resignation of Hardy Nickerson.

For whatever reason, the unit played better. A lot better.

Other than the first Minnesota drive and two late scores, the defense controlled the Gophers.

"The guys took to heart the game plan and executed it well," Smith said.

The expanded role for Smith meant more time at work.

"It changed a little bit ... a lot," Smith said. "There was time to do everything. The head football coach, I guess we're supposed to say that 24/7 we've got stuff we have to do. But there is time to rearrange things and that's what we were able to do last week."

Smith has prepared a few defenses in the past. As coordinator in the NFL.

He gave credit to the players and the assistant coaches.

"Our defensive staff did a great job," Smith said. "As I describe our coaching staff, we have a bunch of stern teachers. I like to think I'm a teacher also. Whenever you get a chance to be more involved teaching young people, who wouldn't like that?"

A good look

Before Saturday, Illinois fans had been critical of Smith's sideline demeanor. They didn't think he was into it enough. Or engaged with the players.

He stood on the sidelines, watching the action. Rarely seeming to get involved.

That changed against Minnesota. He was in charge and it showed.

There was frequent contact with the players.

Frankly, Smith seemed to have fun.

"When guys come to work like that, I just know the defensive coordinator had a blast in his role Saturday," Smith said.

Smith will run the defense again at Nebraska. Beyond that, he isn't making a commitment.

"You know how we do it in football, we take it day by day and play by play," Smith said. "That's what we're doing."

The Illinois coordinator on the other side of the ball, Rod Smith, was impressed.

"I thought he did exceptional," Rod Smith said. "I saw his blitzes. I saw his movement. I saw him stopping people. It was awesome man. It was a great team effort. Our kids played with enthusiasm. Night and day to be honest with you. The kids responded. I think Coach Smith does a great job bringing that out of everybody."

Should Lovie Smith remain as coordinator beyond this season?

"Whatever Coach thinks," Rod Smith said. "If he likes it, I love it.

"That's solely his call. If he decides he thinks he needs to do it, I trust his judgment to do that. He's been doing this a lot longer than I have."

Other interested parties raved about Lovie Smith/Defensive Coordinator.

"Coach Smith had a great game," co-captain Nick Allegretti said. "I think the guys were pretty excited for him to call the game."

Allegretti said he would like to see Lovie Smith continue in the dual role. But ...

"I think he'll probably want to bring someone in that he trusts to call the defense," Allegretti said. "He loves being the head coach, being able to work with both sides of the ball.

"I'm not sure where he'll take this. But I know for at least the next three weeks, the defense is excited to have him calling it."

Open mind

After taking over the defense, Lovie Smith went to the players and asked what they wanted to do.

Good idea.

"They're invested," he said, "We're in this together. That's how you do it. They should know exactly what I'm going to call in every situation pretty much. We have some options each time, but if something happens where we don't get a call in, especially with the linebackers, they should know what we want in certain situations.

"And also when you talk to players like that and see what they like, people tend to play better."

The players enjoyed the experience. And will be happy if it continues.

"Coach is a defensive guy," end Bobby Roundtree said. "He knows the game. It would be pretty nice to have your head coach as the defensive coordinator.

"Everyone bought into what he wanted and listened to him."

And Smith listened to the players, which added a layer of trust.

"It felt good seeing that we could have our own input," Rouundtree said.

There were subtle changes in practice.

"But not too much," Roundtree said. "The way practice is now, it still flows pretty good."

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

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