UPDATED: Illini lose Butkus to Packers

UPDATED: Illini lose Butkus to Packers

CHAMPAIGN — Lovie Smith spoke like a coach still needing to fill multiple spots on his coaching staff Wednesday afternoon when he mentioned Illinois “working on a few positions right now.” That came despite the fact just a single spot was publicly open at the time after former running backs coach Thad Ward’s departure to Temple.

Turns out Smith actually does have multiple assistants still to hire after the Green Bay Packers announced the addition of Luke Butkus as assistant offensive line coach late Thursday morning.

“Once the season is over, guys leave,” Smith said Wednesday. “Guys come and go a little bit. You have to always be ready for changes to your staff. As you just talk about coaches leaving your program, I’m OK when guys get a promotion. That’s what we’re trying to do — trying to help the profession as much as anything.

“As you try to keep your staff together, the NFL will take some of your players and some of your coaches. If a guy’s moving up, as much as anything, I’ll try to help him out as much as possible.”

Butkus’ three seasons working for Smith was his second stint as offensive line coach at his alma mater. The former Illini offensive lineman was a three-year starter at center and a two-time All-Big Ten selection in his playing career and also coached the Illinois offensive line for one season under Tim Beckman in 2012.

Smith declined comment about Butkus’ departure on Thursday through a team spokesman.

The Green Bay job is Butkus’ third in the NFL. Before joining Beckman’s first Illinois staff, Butkus spent three seasons as offensive line assistant with the Chicago Bears under Smith and two more in the same position with the Seattle Seahawks.

Butkus is the fourth Illinois assistant to leave the program in less than a year. In addition to Butkus and Ward, cornerbacks coach Donnie Abraham resigned for “personal reasons” three weeks before the start of the 2018 season and defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson resigned for “health reasons” in late October.

Smith officially announced the hiring of new cornerbacks coach Keynodo Hudson and his son, Miles Smith, as linebackers coach Wednesday. Illinois starts its spring practices March 26, and Smith said Wednesday his only timetable for completing his staff for the 2019 season is “as soon as possible.”

That will be accomplished by hiring assistants that fit the mold Smith wants. He’s looking for “an excellent teacher” in addition to being a recruiter and being able to develop players as men off the field.

“As a general rule, I try not to just get in a hurry with things,” Smith said. “Now I know exactly what the landscape looks like. You take your time to look at all of the different options that you have and then make a good decision. ... As you can imagine, there are a lot of good coaches that would like to be a part of our staff. That process will continue.”