Asmussen | Lovie cuts out the middleman in decision to run Illinois defense

Asmussen | Lovie cuts out the middleman in decision to run Illinois defense

Of course, Lovie Smith is the new Illinois defensive coordinator. What did you think was going to happen?

The Illinois head coach did double-duty during the 2018 season, serving as his own defensive coordinator after Hardy Nickerson's resignation.

"I loved it an awful lot," Smith said. "I feel pretty comfortable in that position."

I suppose, Smith could have given the job to someone else. But why?

With Smith serving as his own defensive coordinator, he has in essence cut out the middleman. No reason to explain to someone else what he wants/expects. Smith will simply do it himself.

"The best chance we have to be successful defensively is for me to move into that role," Smith said. "There are a lot of head coaches that are offensive guys that call plays. This year, there's been a little revival of more defensive coaches that are head guys that are moving into that role."

Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith likes the idea.

"It will be fun to get a chance to go against him every day," Rod Smith said. "That will be a challenge. Lovie's a great mind. I'm glad he's taking over our defense."

Lovie Smith said he considered others to take over as defensive coordinator.

"I talked to a lot of coaches," Smith said. "Whenever there's a position open, I talk to everybody that I possibly can. Some on campus. Some off. Some through recruiting on the phone. It's a long period of time since we played our last game."

Lovie Smith won't have to introduce the new defensive coordinator to the current players. He has already been working with them.

"Bob, I think it's a must," Smith said. "Was that a big factor in it? Absolutely it was."

During recruiting, Smith let the prospects know he would be taking over the defense. Some speculated it would be difficult to lure players with a gaping hole in the staff. Not so much.

"They came," Smith said. "Most of the defensive coaches will tell you I'm involved in everything. They knew exactly what I said it would be. I think that's one of the reasons they did come aboard."

Filling up

The Illini completed their defensive staff Wednesday with the announced additions of Miles Smith (linebackers) and Keynodo Hudson (cornerbacks).

Miles Smith, Lovie's son, opened the 2018 season as a graduate assistant working with outside linebackers and nickel backs. He was promoted to the full-time staff after the training camp departure of Donnie Abraham. Smith coached the defensive backs.

Hudson joins the Illini after two seasons on Lane Kiffin's staff at Florida Atlantic. Hudson spent six seasons as a defensive administrative assistant at Southern Cal.

Salary information for Miles Smith and Hudson wasn't available Wednesday.

"Salary-wise, we're very competitive," Lovie Smith said. "We want to pay our guys as much as possible. We want them to be comfortable here with their families and stay here unless they have an opportunity to advance, to move up. I don't think we're going to lose a lot of coaches based on salary."

Former defensive coordinator Nickerson was paid $650,000 annually. That money can go back in the salary pool and be used however Smith sees fit.

With the recent departure of running backs coach Thad Ward to Temple, Illinois has an opening on its offensive staff.

"I'm going to look at guys on our staff first off," Lovie Smith said. "Guys on our staff. Guys that I know. You use all of your resources."

The head coach said his offensive coordinator will have input with the next hire.

"Absolutely," Lovie Smith said. "I've been in this profession a long time. There's a lot of people I know. There's a lot of people that Rod knows. We'll put our minds together. We'll get a very good person to add to our offensive staff."

Wrapping up

Wednesday was the start of the second signing period for college football. Illinois added two players to the 11 December signees.

Linebackers Shammond Cooper (St. Louis Trinity) and Tarique Barnes (Memphis (Tenn.) Cordova) joined the program.

"(Cooper) is an outstanding football player," Smith said. "Trinity has been good to us with (quarterback) Isaiah Williams coming early. We're excited about having Shammond join our program."

Smith said Barnes fit the profile the Illini coaches look for when recruiting linebackers.

"You want some guys that can play in space a little bit," Smith said.

The team earlier announced the addition of transfer tight end Luke Ford, the Carterville native who spent the 2018 season at Georgia. Ford will be with the Illini during spring drills, which start in late March.

"Adding him to this class is big," Smith said. "Luke's got excellent size, catches the ball, tough guy."

Former Alabama offensive lineman Richie Petitbon has joined the team and will play guard. The only departing senior starter for the Illini was Nick Allegretti, who also played guard. Petitbon should slide into Allegretti's spot in the lineup. He is the grandson of a former Chicago Bears Pro Bowler.

The Illini hoped to have Oklahoma graduate transfer receiver A.D. Miller with the team this semester. But there has been a delay.

"There are some academic things we're working on," Smith said. "We'll continue to work to try to get him here a little bit later on."

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

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