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Illini basketball Illini football

In hindsight, it was a pretty good day

Yeah, Illini football got walloped by a basketball school. Let it pass. Saturday was magical.

A lot of the attendees had never before seen a full Memorial Stadium. They weren’t alive when Mike White and John Mackovic’s teams were forced to build temporary bleachers to accommodate 76,000+ fans.

No Illinois undergrad was alive the last time a packed Tailgreat (look it up) celebrated perfect weather buttressed by unfettered optimism for the program’s future. The 80s Belonged to the Illini (look it up).

You might even blame excitement for the team’s mistake-prone performance. They were just that hyped up. Thirteen penalties and six fumbles might, if we’re lucky, stand as all-time records for the Lovie Administration.

Scroll down a bit and you’ll find Vashoune Russell’s pictures from the evening. This one captures Center Joe Spencer’s once in a lifetime 9 yard rush. It would have been the play of the game except that Gabe Megginson severely twisted his ankle just as Spencer was scooping the ball from the turf.

Illini center Joe Spencer nearly gained a rushing first down after picking up a fumble (Vashoune Russell)

But let’s stick to happy thoughts.

It wasn’t just a vibrant atmosphere among long-suffering tailgaters. The north end zone was packed with unofficial visitors, potential football recruits who’ve taken note of the NFL pedigree now running the Champaign show.

Garrick McGee continued to look like a 1940s leading man as he introduced priority target student-athletes to one-another. It’s the mustache, but it’s also the demeanor.

At the northeast corner of Zuppke Field, John Groce entertained FOUR Official Visitors and their families. Yes, three of these Visitors have already verballed to Illinois. But that doesn’t answer the question: Has any D-1 basketball program ever hosted FOUR Official Visitors on the same weekend?

Maybe this is the year John Groce turns things around. Even Jalen Coleman-Lands looked pumped as the team convened in the north end zone, and he’d had hand surgery just a day earlier.

So, yeah. Larry Fedora’s Flash In The Pan put a hurt on your orange for the second time in as many seasons.

Next year, he’ll be coaching somewhere else. UNC will be on probation. Lovie et al will have signed the most widely discussed recruiting class since Dwight Beverly (look it up).

Illini head coach Lovie Smith admonishes Ke’Shawn Vaughn after the latter’s personal foul Saturday night in Champaign (Vashoune Russell)

T.J. Logan eludes Illini Chris James (Vashoune Russell)

Luke Butkus and Hardy Nickerson Sr. are bemused (Vashoune Russell)
Bad form tackling by Lovie Smith versus Carolina RB Elijah Hood (Vashoune Russell)
Dawuane Smoot is not bemused (Vashoune Russell)

 

Categories
Illini football

Lovie signs a contract

You thought Lovie Smith was hired on March 7, 2016.

Those of us who filed FOIAs that day, seeking the terms of his contract, were told we’d be mailed a copy when it was signed, and that we needn’t ask again.

So for a few months, some of us have been wondering when this day would arrive. And why the delay?

Image by Vashoune Russell

Lovie signed a “Term Sheet” on the weekend Josh Whitman delivered him to a stunned Illini nation.

Billy Gillispie operated under a similar device, labeled a “memorandum of understanding” during his brief tenure at Kentucky.  (Gillispie’s eventual settlement with the Wildcats paid a fraction of what he’d have earned had he signed the seven-year offer left on the table.)

The Lovie contract runs 41 pages. There’s a strongly-worded clause about health and well-being of students (surprise, surprise) followed by a quizzical paragraph admonishing the coach to recruit good student-athletes.

It gets weirder and more interesting in 3.2.f , which states that the head football coach makes decisions about his staff’s continued employment and compensation subject to the approval of the athletic director, and then

Josh Whitman may be a Ron Guenther protégé, but he absorbed more about the power of contracts than Guenther.

Lovie will get a lot of perks. “Up to two late model vehicles” with paid liability and comprehensive insurance (cf. John Groce’s contract, which specifies a second car for his wife), a family membership to a local country club (why not just come out and say it? … the Champaign CC) and a maximum $25,000 reimbursement for moving his household.

He also gets 20 tickets to all football games, home and away, for his personal and family use. He gets the use of one west side Memorial Stadium suite, and two “VIP parking passes” for every home football game. He gets four tickets to every men’s basketball, women’s basketball and volleyball game. And a VIP parking pass for basketball games at State Farm Center.

The buyout terms are similarly friendly.

The penalty clauses seem obsessive. They probably aren’t the reason Matt Smith (Lovie’s son and agent) delayed signing for half a year.  Ostensibly, Lovie doesn’t care about these clauses. He signed the contract.

But there are a number of activities which would void Lovie’s contract, costing him $19,000,000, yet are perfectly legal. The clause about drinking alcohol  doesn’t mean Lovie can’t get drunk. It means he can’t be drunk on the job. Or under the influence of narcotics, steroids or other “chemicals” not prescribed by his physician.

Who’s to say whether and when he is “materially impair”ed by a chemical?  I took a DayQuil geltab once. It made me feel odd.

The clause about betting on pro sports is a restraint on trade, albeit a trade that’s legal in few jurisdictions.

“The University,” as it’s identified in this agreement, covers its ass in ways unimagined by previous contracts with previous coaches. At the same time, it offers enormous remuneration and embarrassingly paltry yet delineated incentives to assistant football staff, arguably it’s downfall. Illinois still hasn’t figured out, evidently, that it  can pay Hardy Nickerson and Garrick McGee amounts which might compel them to stay here for a while. That’s a huge problem, and one that most university departments had figured out by the Jimmy Carter Administration.

The Lovie contract refers to a pool of money for assistants. Competitive schools pay “pool” money to individuals.

The U does recognize the cost associated with an untimely departure of its head coach, in myriad clauses. The U seeks to defray those costs, in those clauses.

Does this seem too clausy? Why am I barraging you with incessant paragraphs when I could simply embed the entire contract?

Sorry.

Here it is, in full. Read it.

[gview file=”http://illinireport.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Lovie-Smith-Executed-Employment-Contract-090816.pdf” height=”800px” width=”800px” save=”0″]

 

Categories
Illini football

The Gaps

Darta Lee (61) got the start at right guard and Nick Allegretti (53) moved to center.

The game is won or lost in the line. We know that. It’s what your Pop Warner coach taught you. It’s no less true today.

This year’s Illini team will go as far as its O-Line can carry it. How far is that?

Ke-‘Shawn Vaughn couldn’t find his way up the middle on Illinois’ first drive against Murray State.  Starting Center and captain Joe Spencer was out with an injury, and guard Nick Allegretti moved into the position. True freshman Darta Lee filled Allegretti’s vacated RG spot. The majority of first drive snaps were running plays, but the big yards came on passes to Malik Turner in the flat. Vaughn’s biggest run on the drive, a ten yard gain, went outside of right tackle.

Play-by-play of first Illini drive versus Murray State

That Illinois waited ’til third down for Wes Lunt‘s first pass is thoroughly unremarkable among old school football fans. That Vaughn managed only 4 yards on the first two downs is remarkable. Murray State was 3-8 last year against a schedule that featured two total FBS teams (Northern Illinois, Western Michigan).

A moment later the Illini offense got another shot at moving the ball, when Racer QB KD Humphries threw the ball directly to Illini DB Taylor Barton.

Mikey Dudek (right) watches as Taylor Barton tries to decide what to do with his interception.

This time, Illinois skipped the run altogether. Lunt found Turner again, firing his longest career pass, 40 yards in the air and 68 overall. The pass hit a sprinting Turner in the fingertips. Somehow, Malik reeled the ball in. He claimed afterward that he’s not especially fast, and isn’t equipped with especially long fingers.

The offense then waited on the sideline while Murray State waffled through a two-punt drive (owing to one of Dawuane Smoot’s three penalties) before Darius Mosely made a nice punt return (22 yards) which could have gone for six if he’d stepped left behind his blocker rather than right.

Darius Mosely nearly broke a punt return for touchdown.

Illinois’ third drive yielded two first downs via one 13-yard Vaughn scamper, two short rushing gains and a third down pass conversion, but Illinois punted on its third series of downs.

The fourth drive was worse. An incomplete pass on first down, Vaughn gaining two on second, Lunt sacked on third. At this point, the O-Line wasn’t clearing room, and wasn’t protecting the passer.  For what it’s worth, Jordan Fagan had taken over for Lee at RG.

More terrible Murray State offense (and a 22-yard punt) next handed Illinois the ball at the Racer 39. Vaughn immediately lost two yards. His next rush gained one. But his third rush of the series might have gone for 99 had he not started it at the Racer 2.  On this occasion, the offensive line created a hole you could drive a (insert cliché here).

Whether Fagan was more effective than Lee (once he found his footing) will probably be determined by the time Illinois’ first team O trots out against North Carolina on Saturday. By the end of the second quarter, the line had cleared the way for two rushing touchdowns (Vaughn, Kendrick Foster), but both were run toward the left guard. Foster’s 56-yard scamper was the third play (and third down) of a drive that began with a 9-yard completion and an incomplete toss to Vaughn on 2nd-and-1.

Kendrick Foster hits the hole of all holes.

Whether the Illini O-Line had figured things out by this point, or whether the Racers were bored with getting beat in the flat, and spread their resources toward the sidelines; it seemed clear that the passing game opened opportunities for the running game, rather than the other way around.

Lovie Smith, in his postgame remarks , rejected a theory that the O-Line needed some snaps to find a working chemistry.   He observed the first unit comprised the same individuals that practiced together all week. Depending on your interpretation, this response could be comforting or alarming. But keep in mind, Lovie does not part with information or insight if he can avoid it. He’s not necessarily going to tell you what he really thinks.

Mike Phair advises Lovie Smith.

Lovie also rejected the idea that Illinois intended to use the run to open the field for its passing game. But the play-by-play is right there, at FightingIllini.com, for all to see. Illinois was the run-first team everyone anticipated, including Wes Lunt (who seemed genuinely pleased when claiming he’d be happy to throw fewer attempts, and take fewer licks from opposing defensive linemen).

Run-first failed. Take away Foster’s two 56-yard scampers, and Illinois achieved 175 yards on 38 carries. Its #1 tailback averaged 2.9/carry for 55 yards against an awful FCS team.

Will everything come together, now that Illinois’ first offensive unit has had a chance to work out the kinks against an unfamiliar opponent? Will Joe Spencer’s return solidify the line? We’ll probably know by 7:15 pm on Saturday. If Ke’Shawn Vaughn has fewer than 10 yards rushing by that time, you may be in for a long season.

All photos by Vashoune Russell.

Lotta horny dudes at the game.