Lovie Smith Says He’s Not Planning Any Staff Changes for 2020 season

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Lovie Smith has indicated he’d be satisfied bringing back the same coaching staff for the 2020 season.

Following the disappointing 29-10 loss to Northwestern in the regular-season finale last weekend, Smith said he’d be happy to have the exact same 10 on-field assistant coaches coming into spring practices in late March or early April.

“Every year we’ve tried to keep the staff intact as possible,” Smith said Saturday. “You never know.”

According to public record requests by Illini Maven/Sports Illustrated, only two Illinois assistants (safeties coach Gill Byrd and tight ends coach Cory Patterson) have their contracts scheduled to expire on Jan. 31, 2020.

Patterson, according to the 247Sports.com recruiting database, is credited with being personally responsible for recruiting three of Illinois’ nine verbal commitments (four-star wide receiver James Frenchie, three-star offensive tackle Kevin Tyler and running back Reggie Love) for the upcoming 2020 class.

Byrd, who is 58 years old and also under the defensive title of “passing game coordinator”, has worked with or for Smith in the NFL during stops with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2014-15), Chicago Bears (2006-12) and St. Louis Rams (2003-05).

Everybody but those two are in the middle of multi-year agreements but none of the assistants under the Illini fourth-year head coach except offensive coordinator Rod Smith are scheduled to earn more than $335,000 annually.

All of the Illini staff members have been on the road recruiting this week and seen on social media photos during home visits. The early signing period for the 2020 recruiting class is Dec. 18-20 and the second signing date begins on Feb. 5.

Following the regular-season finale where won the Land of Lincoln Trophy for the fifth consecutive season, Northwestern fired longtime offensive coordinator/QB coach Mick McCall.

Lovie Smith will take Illinois to a bowl game this month, its first in five years, after clinching a berth with a thrilling 37-34 come-from-behind victory at Michigan State on Nov. 9. Illinois trailed 28-3 in the second quarter and 31-10 entering the fourth before completing the biggest comeback in program history. The Fighting Illini tied for the largest fourth-quarter comeback in a Big Ten game in the last 40 seasons by outscoring Michigan State 27-3 in the fourth quarter. The win was part of a four-game Big Ten winning streak for the Fighting Illini, which started at Memorial Stadium with a victory over then-No. 6 Wisconsin in arguably one of the biggest upsets of the college football season.

Last February, Lovie Smith announced he will remain the Illini’s defensive coordinator after taking on the dual roles in the 2018 season following Hardy Nickerson’s resignation in late October. In the same announcement, Lovie Smith announced his son Miles would be promoted to a full-time on-field assistant as linebackers coach.

Lovie Smith said Saturday following arguably the most disappointing result of the 2019 season that he’d be open to his assistants exploring coordinator roles if they wished to do so.

“If anybody on my staff has an opportunity to move up (from assistant to coordinator or coordinator to head coach), I’m doing everything I can to help them,” Smith said. “If that’s not the case, we’ll bring back as many of the guys back as possible. In time, all of those things tend to work out.” 

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