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SportsMonday: The Return Of Lovie Smith

Keep it simple Illinois fans: Lovie Smith is a way, way better coach than you could have ever dreamed would be on the Illini sideline next fall. His hiring was finalized Monday morning.

Heck, in Tampa Bay he even finally hired a competent offensive coordinator, something he never managed to do with the Bears (in fact, a big reason Lovie was fired despite going 10-6 in his last season with the Bears four years ago was because that assistant coach was going to be fired again and management decided not to let him hire a fifth OC).

Finding that assistant in Tampa Bay apparently got Lovie fired, but still . . . that was Dirk Koetter of course, who was so good at the job, at least according to Buccaneer management, that they couldn't risk losing him to head coaching another team. So they fired Lovie and gave Koetter the head job instead.

They gave the assistant coach the credit for developing rookie quarterback Jameis Winston last season, when the Bucs were so promising for so long before losing their last four games to fall out of contention in Smith's second year at the helm.

On the other hand, many observers thought it a little strange that Lovie didn't get the credit for believing in Winston from almost Day 1 of last offseason and never wavering in his belief that the team should take him first in the 2015 draft. And Winston has clearly cleaned up his act since his Florida State days. Does Bucs management think it was a coincidence that happened under the overall tutelage of Smith?

Another thing about Lovie, who drove me just as crazy as he drove any other Bears fan during his nine-year tenure at the helm of the local team with his ultra-passive aggressive approach to all questions from outsiders: Just because he doesn't criticize players in public doesn't mean he doesn't criticize them.

That misimpression grew more than a little irritating during Smith's run in Chicago. Does he give guys second, third and even fifth chances? Yes he does; that's one of the reasons they play so hard for him (remember, not only was he 10-6 in his last season here, but he's still the only coach to lead the Bears to the Super Bowl other than Ditka). Lovie holds guys accountable, period. Follow the program to the letter or sit on the bench.

Recruiting shouldn't be terribly tough either. He'll have to hire some tech-savvy athletic department employees, but I hear there are at least a few guys out there trying to land jobs in sports management. Or is it tens of thousands of guys. Something tells me they could probably help the coach create a killer social media package or two.

Here's a sample of a potentially winning pitch just off the top of my head. "Hello star recruit. Surely you are away that none of these other coaches have a clue of what it takes to make it in the NFL like I do (Jim Harbaugh probably does up at Michigan but the rest of them sure as hell don't). Are you serious about playing this game as well as you can and having a chance to play at the next level or not?"

And another thing: "It is amazing how more and more college football coaches are deploying schemes that may work at the college level but do a terrible job preparing guys for the pros. I'm looking right at you Ohio State coach Urban Meyer."

It shouldn't exactly be difficult for Lovie to recruit against that ridiculousness.

And finally, and again just off the top of my head, Lovie should play the race card, and then he should play it again, and again. What, you think Harbaugh wouldn't do that if he was black? Of course he would.

That pitch goes something like this: Did you happen to see what happened at Missouri last season? Columbia, the home of that university, is not far from Champaign by the way. Some African-American students were agitating against what they saw as a school hierarchy not doing nearly enough to combat racism. They weren't getting anywhere. Then the football team got involved and threatened a boycott. Then all the bosses got fired.

It is way, way past time for African-American football players, the guys who are just about always the stars of a multibillion dollar show, to demand a much bigger portion of all those revenues. The only way that happens is if those players come together to assert themselves collectively. What better guy to serve as a leader in that effort than one of the first African-American coaches to ever take a team to the Super Bowl?

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See also:
* Haugh: Lovie Smith, Who Always Believed In Redemption, Deserves Shot At Illinois.

* Rosenbloom: Illinois Views Lovie Smith's Mediocrity And Condescension As A Step Up.

* Hoge vs. Kaplan:

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Jim "Coach" Coffman is our case of the Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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