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Lovie Smith’s leadership, recruiting potential impressed Illinois AD

By Chicago Tribune

Illinois hired new football head coach Lovie Smith for his track record as a leader, but his ties to coveted recruiting regions also were a big part of the equation, athletic director Josh Whitman said in a radio interview on Monday.

“You think about the geographic areas that you’d want a football coach to be connected to. Here at the University of Illinois you think first, of course, about Chicago, you think about St. Louis, you think about Texas, you think about Florida,” Whitman said on WSCR-AM 670. “And of course Lovie has strong connections in all four of those areas. We think that there’s not a living room in America that wouldn’t open their doors to Lovie Smith and his staff. He immediately puts us in the conversation from a recruiting standpoint in getting in front of the best players in the country.”

Whitman, who officially took over the athletics in Champaign just Saturday, acknowledged that hiring the ex-Bears coach was a bold and sudden move but said that delaying the change from Bill Cubit “was only continuing to damage the program.”

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“It happened very, very quickly as you can imagine,” he said, adding that he flew to Tampa to meet Smith at his home. “We have been in contact with Lovie for maybe a week or more. I just wanted to gauge his interest and get a sense of if this was something, if it were available, he would have an interest in tackling. … And just for me Lovie is the right person at the right moment for our program and when we saw we had an opportunity to get a coach of his caliber, it was just an absolute home run for us.”

The school also was attracted to what Smith “brings to the table in terms of experience, in terms of his approach, his demeanor. Lovie is an incredible leader of men,” Whitman said.

Whitman had no previous ties to Smith, but former Illini head coach and onetime Smith assistant Ron Turner was a “critical piece” in making the connection.

In an interview with The Associated Press,┬áCubit said, “I just came in and [Whitman] said, ‘I’m letting you go.'”

Several Illini players complained that they learned about the news through social media, something Whitman implied couldn’t be helped.

“I think in terms of the team finding out via social media, I still have yet for anybody to tell me how we could have handled that differently,” he said. “The way information travels today, as soon as I told Bill Cubit what we were doing, by the time I got back to my office we were already being called by the media.

“We were very aware of how were communicating the information and tried to be as sensitive as we could but also didn’t see any way to get to the team immediately following Bill without the news getting out first.”

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(c) 2016 the Chicago Tribune

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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