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Illinois extends Lovie Smith


Lovie Smith is just 9-27 in three seasons as the head coach at Illinois. The Illini concluded a 4-8 season with a 24-16 loss to No. 20 Northwestern on Saturday, just a week after falling 63-0 to Iowa. Smith is just 4-23 in Big Ten play, and 2-22 against everyone in the conference not named Rutgers.

Given those figures, one would expect that Illinois might announced today it had fired Smith.

Instead, Illinois did the opposite. The Illini have announced a 2-year contract extension for its head coach, keeping him employed through the 2023 season.

In a lengthy statement by AD Josh Whitman, he explained the reasons he decided to double down on the Smith tenure:

  • We doubled our win total from the 2017 campaign and compiled two more Big Ten wins than in the prior year.  In addition, we were minutes away from an upset against South Florida that could have propelled our season in an entirely different direction and, just yesterday, we had several chances to beat a good Northwestern team before losing a one-score game. 

  • Our offense was one of the nation’s most improved units, making significant advancements in national rankings for total yards and scoring per game.

  • We emerged as one of the most dynamic running attacks in football, with more than 240 yards rushing per game, an improvement of almost 140 yards from the previous season.  We were among the nation’s leaders in explosive runs, and running back Reggie Corbin recorded the first 1,000-yard season by an Illini runner in the last eight years.

  • For the second consecutive season, we fielded one of the youngest teams in college football, with only nine seniors and 24 total upperclassmen, both the fewest in the nation. 

  • On the other end of the spectrum, underclassmen accounted for nearly 80% of the roster and 60% of the total starting lineup.  In the last two seasons, we have played 41 true freshmen who, in total, have accounted for 118 starts – numbers unprecedented in our program’s history.

  • More than 30 starters and significant contributors are expected to return in 2019.

  • The team was riddled with injuries during the 2018 season.  Players missed a total of 114 games due to injury, including more than 65 combined games by projected starters.

  • In terms of our roster, this staff has successfully attracted more top tier talent to Champaign than we have seen in a decade, with several players in each class choosing Illinois over tradition-rich Power 5 programs.

  • In July 2019, we will open the doors on the Henry Dale and Betty Smith Football Center, the new 110,000-square-foot home of the Illinois football program.  This building, which will be among the finest facilities of its kind anywhere in the country, represents the most sweeping upgrades to player and staff spaces in generations.

“The University of Illinois is an incredible place to coach and teach,” Smith said. “We love living here in Champaign-Urbana and representing our state’s flagship institution. We will continue working every day as we move our football program forward. Our new football performance center, the Smith Football Center, which will be completed next summer, will be among the best in the nation. I want to thank Josh Whitman and Chancellor Robert Jones for continuing to believe in what we are working to accomplish. Those of us around the program see the progress being made each and every day and we expect to be competing for championships very soon. Our incredible fans and everyone on our campus deserve nothing less.”

Contract figures for Smith’s extension were not disclosed. Smith made $5 million in 2018 according to the USA Today coaching salary database, making him the 13th highest-paid coach in college football.

ACC revenue reaches $465 million but distributions lag behind other power conferences

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Like most other power conferences, the ACC saw a boost in total revenue in the 2018 fiscal year. According to data acquired by USA Today, the ACC saw an increase of about 11% from the previous year, and each ACC member received a distribution of $29.5 million. The total amount of revenue reported by the ACC on its most recent tax filings came in just under $465 million, which is up from the $418.1 million reported a year ago.

Not that $29.5 million is chump change by any stretch of the imagination, but the ACC revenue share is more on par with the payments received by Pac-12 members than those received by members of the Big 12, Big Ten, and SEC. Notre Dame received $7.9 million from the ACC for their revenue share for being a partial member of the conference outside of football. Big Ten revenue totaled nearly $760 million with distribution shares of $54 million. SEC schools received payouts of $43.1 million from $627 million in revenue, and Big 12 schools received between $33.6 million and $36.6 million from the $373.9 million in revenue. The Pac-12 was the outlier with a decrease in revenue. With all of those figures in place, the 14-team ACC stands relatively low on the revenue ladder among power conferences.

It is worth a reminder the Big 12 is splitting its revenue distributions in uneven fashion among 10 members instead of 12 or 14 like the Pac-12 and ACC. The ACC could also be in for a bit of a windfall in the coming fiscal year with the recent national championship runs by Clemson’s football team and Virginia men’s basketball team. The upcoming launch of the ACC Network will eventually lead to some more potential revenue growth, although the impact of that will not be known for another two years once the tax return information for the 2019-2020 fiscal year are documented.

Naturally, revenue growth in a conference leads to salary growth for the commissioner. ACC commissioner John Swofford is no exception here with a compensation of $3.5 million for 2017, up from $3.3 million the previous year.

NHL Winter Classic forces First Responder Bowl to relocate in 2019

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The First Responder Bowl has been calling historic Cotton Bowl Stadium home since its debut in 2011 as the TicketCity Bowl. But for one year, the First Responder Bowl will take up residence in another stadium to make way for some professional hockey.

The NHL Winter Classic between the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators will be played in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 2020. Because the historic venue will be setup to host some outdoor hockey, the First Responder Bowl will be held on SMU’s campus in Ford Stadium. The bowl game will return to the Cotton Bowl the following season.

“We are looking forward to the new venue and date as part of the celebration of the 10th year of this bowl game’s history,” executive director of the First Responder Bowl Brant Ringler said in a released statement. “In addition to those changes, we hope to grow the number of first responders who attend the game and find new ways to say thank you to them for their service in our communities.”

SMU’s football stadium previously hosted a bowl game in 2010 and 2011. The Armed Forces Bowl, which is typically played in TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, was played in SMU’s stadium in those two seasons because of stadium renovations at TCU.

Last year’s First Responder Bowl ended shortly after it began. The bowl matchup between Boise State and Boston College was called off due to inclement weather with Boston College leading the Broncos 7-0 in the first quarter. The game had been in a lightning delay for over an hour before the game was ruled a no contest.

Mario Cristobal reportedly working on extension with Oregon

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The Oregon Ducks appear to be in good hands under the leadership of head coach Mario Cristobal. After one nine-win season in 2018, Cristobal has Oregon gaining some offseason hype for the first time in a few years, and the school is reportedly looking to tack on some additional time to his current contract.

According to a report from The Oregonian, Oregon is working out a deal for a one-year contract extension for Cristobal. If worked out, the new contract would extend Cristobal’s contract with the Ducks through the end of the 2023 season. A one-year extension may not seem like a lot for a college football coach, but that would give Cristobal job security for the next few recruiting cycles, assuring incoming recruits Cristobal is under contract in Eugene for the foreseeable future. And if things continue to trend in the direction they could potentially are now, it will only be a matter of time before another long-term extension is on the table for discussion. But that can wait another few years at this point.

After taking over for a bowl game at the end of the 2017 season following the abrupt departure of Willie Taggart to Florida State, Cristobal returned to being a full-time head coach for the first time since 2012 at FIU by guiding the Ducks to a 9-4 record in 2018. Cristobal’s first season as head coach of Oregon resulted in a Redbox Bowl victory over Michigan State and saw the Ducks fly as high as No. 12 in the AP poll. The 2019 season is coming with some lofty expectations within the Pac-12 as Oregon is expected to compete for the conference championship with division foe Washington and other contenders such as Utah, Stanford, and Washington State.

Cristobal came to Oregon as an assistant coach under Taggart after previously being an assistant coach for Nick Saban at Alabama. Cristobal was the head coach of FIU from 2007 through 2012, accumulating a record of 27-47 that turned a 1-11 program into one with back-to-back winning seasons, but FIU moved on from Cristobal following a 3-9 season in 2012.

Lingering foot Injury forces San Diego State’s leading returning receiver to retire

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Rocky Long already knew that he’d be forced to replace his top two receivers, yardage-wise, entering the 2019 offseason.  Now, the San Diego State head coach has seen that number bumped up to three.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Tim Wilson Jr. has been forced to retire because of a lingering and persistent foot injury.  The redshirt junior wide receiver underwent surgery earlier this offseason — it forced him to the sidelines for the whole of spring practice — but it wasn’t enough to keep him from having to take a medical retirement.

“He won’t be on the team anymore because his injuries will prevent him from continuing with us,” Long said according to the Union-Tribune. “He stays on scholarship for, I think he has two more years to graduate, as long as he keeps his grades up and all those sorts of things.

“But he can’t play because he never got over his injury.”

This past season, Wilson’s 362 yards receiving were third on the Aztecs, while his 19.1 yards per catch were good for second on the team.  His three receiving touchdowns were tied for tops on the squad.