New Illinois staff heavy on experience with NFL, Smith

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) The new staff Illinois coach Lovie Smith introduced Tuesday is heavy on experience in the NFL, and on experience with Smith.

The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears coach said that is what he had in mind when he hired them during an unusual time to put together a staff. Smith was hired March 7 after the surprise firing of Bill Cubit two days earlier.

''Yes, I wanted an NFL mix,'' Smith said. ''I think in your mind you always have your ideal staff in play, if I'm in position, this is who I would like to have with me.''

As he worked his way through the list of coaches he has hired the past few weeks, most coached with Smith at some point or were connected to him in some way.

After a long NFL career and several seasons coaching high school football, defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson was part of Smith's staff at Tampa Bay after being a star linebacker as a player. Nickerson had just joined the San Francisco 49ers staff as linebackers coach when Smith talked him into coming to Illinois.

''The pitch for him was, we're trying to do something special here at the University of Illinois,'' Smith said. ''Who wouldn't want him on the staff?''

Former Louisville offensive coordinator Garrick McGee will be in charge of the offense at Illinois. He and Smith have known each other since Smith recruited McGee at Arizona State. Smith said he and McGee plan to run a pro-style offense.

Other staff members include special teams and tight ends coach Bob Ligashesky, whom Smith has known since the two worked at Arizona State in the 1980s; offensive line coach Luke Butkus, who spent three seasons on Smith's Bears staff, in addition to a season at Illinois; receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker, who coached with the Bears for several seasons; and defensive line coach Mike Phair, a veteran of both the Bears and Buccaneers.

Running backs coach Thad Ward and defensive backs coach Paul Williams have not worked with Smith.

Illinois will start spring football Friday.

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