He's Back: Illini Coach Lovie Smith Returns To Practice Facility

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Lovie is back.

Illinois football head coach Lovie Smith made his first public return to his office in the Smith Family Football practice facility since the University of Illinois campus was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Smith, and his wife MaryAnne, had reportedly been residing in a vacation home in Arizona during the COVID-19 stay-at-home period relegated by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and decided not to return to the state of Illinois until the stay-at-home order had been lifted at the very least.

That’s not to suggest the Illinois staff hasn’t been incredibly busy on the recruiting trail during the designated dead period assigned by the NCAA as universities begin to adapt to coronavirus procedures before the beginning of the fall 2020 semester of classes.

Since May 1, Illinois football has seen its number of commitments in its 2021 recruiting class rise from one to 10 during a period where the only contact coaches can have with potential recruits is via phone calls and Zoom video conferencing meetings. 

Back in March Smith said he would use his NFL coaching background to prepare for a 2020 college football season where it is still now unknown if COVID-19 positive cases will alter practice schedules or even eventually shut down play in the fall.

“I come from an NFL background where you don’t have spring practices (and) you don’t do much physical contact, if any at all, during the summer and you have a training camp to get ready for the season and then you get ready for the games each week,” Smith said. “I don’t know if increasing the amount of (preseason practice) time is the answer. As long as our athletes find a way to stay in good condition, I think you can work and adjust everything else to put on a good product and get everybody ready eventually when that day comes. I’ve seen it happen in the past. I’ve seen guys miss a majority of the spring workouts and the summer workouts and still have outstanding seasons.”

On June 17, the NCAA Division I Council approved a six-week preseason practice model for teams preparing for the 2020 college football season. According to the NCAA ruling, football players participate in up to eight hours of weight training, conditioning and film review per week from July 12-22. The film review sessions are prohibited from exceeding two hours per week.

Football players may be required to participate in up to 20 hours of sport-related activities per week from July 23-Aug. 5. These activities may not exceed four hours per day. The 20 hours include up to eight hours per week for weight training and conditioning, up to six hours per week for walk-through practices that may include the use of a football. These 20-hour activities period may also include up to six hours per week for meetings. Those may include film review, team meetings, position meetings and one-on-one, coach-player meetings.

During this 14-day period from July 23 to Aug. 5, football players are required to get at least two days off. Under this approved preseason model, Illinois football can open preseason camps on Aug. 6. For teams opening their season on Saturday, Sept. 5, preseason practices can begin on Aug. 7 but Illinois will be allowed to start these preseason activities a day earlier than the published date by the NCAA because the Illini are slated to open the 2020 schedule on the night of Friday, Sept. 4 against Illinois State.

“As a coach, you go into every game with an ideal game plan. It never goes that way. It is always about adjustments as a coach,” Smith said in March. “As we went into this situation, I knew we would have to be making pretty much daily adjustments. Right now, we’re living day to day and try to have a week’s plan and then adjust along the way.”