CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- While the new quarantine lifestyle amid the COVID-19 world health pandemic has forced many to showcase facial hair, Lovie Smith has apparently gone the other way.
Smith, who is entering his fifth season as head coach of the Illinois football program, has shaved off what has been known and marketed as his trademark Santa Claus beard look since the summer of 2018.
During Big Ten Conference football media days on July 24, 2018, the general public was introduced to what his wife MaryAnne had already been accustomed to throughout that summer and that was a salt and pepper beard from the Illini head coach.
“I never shaved much during the summer, before seasons started,” he told The Washington Post last fall. “Two summers ago, I let it grow out for a while, and my wife said to me: ‘I love it. Don’t ever shave it.’ So I guess I won’t.”
During his nine-year run as the head coach of the NFL’s Chicago Bears, Smith maintained his clean-shaven look in route to a 81-63 overall record. However, due to a social media marketing campaign by the University of Illinois, Smith’s beard became a version of an internet sensation and during the 2018 season-opening win over Kent State, the U of I athletics department gave 5,000 Lovie beards to the members of the student section at Memorial Stadium, known as ‘The Block I’.
According to the last check-in to Illinois athletics communications staff by Illini Now/Sports Illustrated, Smith was riding out the current stay-at-home quarantine with his wife in a vacation residence in Arizona. The Illinois football Twitter account posted the picture of Smith, which makes him resemble very much the man who coached in the NFL and accepted the Illini job in 2016, and the reaction was of some shock, even to his current players.
“This. Means. Business,” Illinois tailback Mike Epstein tweeted after seeing the new photo of his coach’s old-style look.
It should be noted, after last season’s bowl trip for the first time in five years for the Illini, Smith has a better record in the two seasons on the sidelines in Champaign with a beard (10-15) than without facial hair (5-19) but has maintained the 2020 version of Illinois football will be his best turnaround season since he took over the program.
Smith has conducted two media sessions since March when the U of I campus was shut down and athletics essentially stopped immediately due to the concerns over the coronavirus world health pandemic. In those two media sessions, Smith has been open with his answers and yet, pragmatic in his comments about the return of college football and whether or not a season can occur in the 2020 fall season.
“I’m not trying to run away from your question but (my answer is) as soon as possible but whenever it happens, it happens,’ Smith said in April. “Right now, you have to take that approach. 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. 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.”