Ashton Washington Joins Illini Football As Lovie Smith’s First Female Staff Hire

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Lovie Smith continues to back his words up that the University of Illinois football program doesn’t care about race, gender, religion or sexual orientation or any other aspect than finding quality people to hire.

Smith, who is entering his fifth season as the Illini’s head football coach, said in early February when asked about his staff being filled predominantly with African-American and minority coaches that he saw a future where Illini football would also try to break the gender inequality in college football.

Illinois currently has seven black assistant coaches, which is tops among all Power 5 Conference programs. Illinois football strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez is the only Hispanic-American with his job title in Power 5 Conference college football.

“To me, if you’re qualified we’re going to find you,” Smith said on Feb. 4. “If you’re a great player, we’re going to find you. We’re going to mix a lot of different people together, and we’re going to let them do their job. And they’re going to do it well.”

Ashton Washington - Illini Director of High School Relations
Illinois football announced the hiring of Ashton Washington on May 19, 2020. Washington is the first African-American female staff member in the history of the Illini football program.University of Illinois athletics department/Ashton Washington Twitter

Smith’s words about the future have been turned into the present as Illinois announced Tuesday the hiring of Ashton Washington as the program’s new director of high school relations. Washington, who previously served as a business and game day operations specialist for the Houston Roughnecks of the now-defunct XFL, takes over the postion for Joe Price after Price was given an on-field coaching position at UT-San Antonio after the end of the 2019 season.

"Ashton Washington brings a unique skill set to the Smith Center, really something that no one else in the building has at this time," Smith said in a statement released by Illinois athletics Tuesday. "She is high energy, extremely organized, and brings a different perspective in how we will engage with recruits when they are on the University of Illinois campus. Ashton is a great fit with our staff and program. I can't wait for all of us to be together again working toward bringing the best student-athletes we can to our campus."

Washington helped manage business operations, logistics, facility operations, and game day operations for the Roughnecks. She also served as the business team's primary liaison to the Director of Football Operations to communicate and coordinate necessary logistics. Along with handling all the organizational issues with high school camp and coaches, Price’s responsibilities also included monitoring the transfer portal, which has been a major recruiting tool for the Illini in the last couple of recruiting cycles.

Washington started her career in football as the Director of Operations/Recruiting for The Old Coach, a media outlet dedication to statewide coverage of Texas high school football. Washington was the head of social media for the company, helping to build a strong reputation with parents, coaches, and student-athletes across the state of Texas.

Lovie Smith is a native of Big Sandy, Texas and led the Big Sandy Wildcats to three consecutive state championships in high school and was all-state as a defensive end and linebacker. was hired as defensive coordinator at his Big Sandy alma mater in 1980 and has kept a tight relationship with high school coaches in the Texas area. Washington graduated from Huston-Tillotson University with a bachelor's degree in mass communication in 2019.