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Illinois hires Lovie Smith for six years, $21 million

Illinois hired Lovie Smith on Monday. (Twitter)

Lovie Smith, who led the Bears to the Super Bowl but had not coached in college in more than 20 years, was officially named the new Illinois football coach Monday morning.

He will receive a six-year contract worth $21 million to become the school’s 25th coach.

New athletics director Josh Whitman hired Smith to replace Bill Cubit, who had received a contract extension from the previous regime after taking over for the embattled Tim Beckman in August.

“I am extremely excited to be named head coach of the Fighting Illini,” Smith said in a statement. “Josh approached me about this possibility, and I immediately seized on the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the young men who are part of the program today and in the future.

“I take this responsibility very seriously and can’t wait to get a staff in place to start our move to make Illinois a contender for Big Ten titles. We will play an exciting brand of football that will make our fans, alumni, student body and members of the University community extremely proud.”

Smith’s contract will be presented to the UI Board of Trustees for approval March 16.

Smith coached 14 years as a college assistant, most recently at Ohio State in 1995.

He went 81-63 nine seasons with the Bears, leading them to Super Bowl XLI. He won eight games in two seasons with the Buccaneers before being fired in January.

“Naming Lovie Smith as the Illinois head football coach is the first step in taking this program to a place of national prominence,” Whitman said in a statement. “We will build a program that contends annually for Big Ten and national championships. The timing for this move was extremely tight, and we needed to move quickly.

“A coach of Lovie’s caliber would not have been available to us if we had waited until after the 2016 season. Lovie’s reputation as a coach, and even more so as a person, made it clear it was an awesome opportunity for the University of Illinois.”

Cubit, who was fired Saturday, will be paid $985,000 to not coach Illinois, while his son, offensive coordinator Ryan Cubit, will get $361,000.

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com