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Illinois extends Lovie Smith’s contract through 2023; AD Josh Whitman explains

Lovie Smith — at Illinois for the long haul? | Stephen Haas/The News-Gazette via AP

Two more years for Lovie Smith.

To be clear, that’s two more years for a coach who just completed a 4-8 season at Illinois and has three-year records of 9-27 overall and 4-23 in Big Ten play.

Illinois announced a contract extension for Smith — through 2023 — in an open letter from athletic director Josh Whitman that was published on the school’s athletics website.

“No one is satisfied with our season, least of all those of us directly involved in the day-to-day work of Illinois Football,” Whitman wrote. “We endured several lopsided losses and expected to win more games. After studying the season, however, there were undoubtedly signs of progress.”


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Whitman noted a rise from two wins in 2017 to four in 2018, an improved offense and an especially young roster. He wrote that the team was “riddled with injuries” and, on Saturday in its finale, stayed close with Northwestern in a 24-16 defeat.

No mention was made of the 63-0 loss to Iowa a week earlier.

“Despite these facts, a growing narrative around our program is that Illinois Football has failed to progress and that [Smith] is in jeopardy of losing his job. If I allowed that narrative to continue unchecked, we would risk damaging the foundation we have worked so hard to construct over these last years. Thus, today we put it to rest and get back to the business of building for the bright future of Illinois Football.”

Terms of the extension will not be released until they’ve been approved by the university’s board of trustees. Smith signed for six years and $21 million when he was hired in 2016.

Read the full letter here.