Illini basketball Illini football

Lovie asked me to take a stand

A couple weeks ago, Lovie Smith asked me (and the Illini media pool) to declare our opinions about Charlottesville, Trump and The Star-Spangled Banner.

I decided this week would be an appropriate time to make that declaration. This week, Ayo Dosunmu will Officially Visit Illinois Basketball.

Everyone’s thinking about Ayo Dosunmu. I want Ayo Dosunmu to think about Lovie’s challenge.

I met Ayo once, with his dad, Quamdeen. I thought he said “Kwame,” a name I’ve heard before. If you’re descended from Europeans, you might not guess that their family name is pronounced Doh-SOO-moo.

Paris Parham was showing them around at a football game.  I asked Quamdeen (or “Coach Q” as he’s called by the pronunciation-challenged) “can I catch up with you guys at halftime?”

“Sure,” he said,  “cool.”

It didn’t work out. Like a lot of football games of the John Groce era, there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement on the field. The Dosunmus were gone by halftime.

At some point after his Official Visit this weekend, Ayo will choose between the University of Illinois and Danny Manning’s Demon Deacons of Wake Forest.

It just  happens that I was scouting Wake Forest yesterday. That is, I was StreetViewing Winston-Salem,  its hometown. Illini basketball will travel there in a few weeks, and I was looking at hotels, etc.

It’s gorgeous.

If I were coaching at Wake-Forest, I’d sell a kid on the beauty of that town.

But then I realized something. Winston-Salem is tobacco country. Their Kimpton Hotel (The Cardinal) is in the old RJ Reynolds building. Their town is named for two packs of cigarettes!

It’s the deep south.

This is Trump territory. These are the people who cheer every time Trump lambastes a conscientious objector. Their gorgeous centreville, old-timey and historic, is where slaves worked the fields. Those fields have been preserved.

There aren’t as many historic slave quarters in Winston-Salem as there are in some towns,  partly because the Moravian Church didn’t allow white locals to own slaves.

Instead, the church owned them.

I don’t know whether one can tour slave quarters anywhere near Wake Forest University. I toured them in Savannah, GA. They didn’t look very comfortable.

Savannah, perhaps because it’s so strongly associated with ante-bellum southern history, might avoid the anti-Confederate protests that toppled statues in Charlottesville and New Orleans.

I thought Savannah’s memorial to Confederate General Lafayette McLaws was an outstanding example of late 19th Century landscape architecture.


I don’t have any particular respect for the man memorialized here. But as art, I thought it was pretty cool. Then again, I’m a middle-aged white man. I’ve never been shot at. I’ve never even been billy-clubbed. That’s what the NFL protests are about, in case anyone forgot. Brutality.

I have been in Charlottesville, though. Two of my sisters lived there. Dave Matthews was their bartender at Miller’s. It seemed like a pleasant if humid place.

Except for this one time.

I was in the Food Lion, just before Thanksgiving 1993. I had a fancy Marantz tape recorder, which I got from the Quartermaster in NPR’s basement. I had the job of asking shoppers which one food item simply had to be on the table to make or break Thanksgiving.

I approached an old black woman in the frozen foods section. Her son was helping her shop. I introduced myself and posed my question.

The old woman did not look me in the eye. She didn’t look up at all. Then her son leaned close to her ear, and whispered “it’s okay.”

And then she answered me.

I don’t remember what her favorite Thanksgiving item was. Her answer probably made the cut for the Morning Edition special that ran the following Thursday. It was an authentic American voice.

But I’ll never forget that she was afraid of me, that she needed permission to talk to me.

I saw her everywhere as I continued my StreetView tour of Winston-Salem. I imagined her bent over in the tobacco drying barn, just like she leaned over the freezer in that Food Lion. I have no doubt she worked hard all her life.

It was great that North Carolina voted for Barack Obama in 2008.  It seemed like progress for a state that foisted Jesse Helms on us for three decades. But then in 2012, the state reverted to red. And last year, it swung the presidency to Donald Trump.

When Lovie asked me to declare my opinion about Trump and the NFL protests, he was too late. I wrote about this issue last year.

But this column is about Ayo Dosunmu, not Colin Kaepernick. This week, Ayo will choose between the state that gave the world Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama, and the state that gave us Donald Trump.

I want Ayo to think about that before he makes his decision.

I don’t know if the rest of the Illini media pool will follow Lovie’s directive to voice an opinion on Trump v. NFL Players. But before Lovie arrived that day, we were already talking about the issue. So whether any of my colleagues declares a stance on the issue, it’s important to recognize that they’re an informed, engaged group of people.

Loren Tate spent the lunch hour Googling the history of The Star-Spangled Banner as a sports tradition. He announced, shortly before the presser began, that Woodrow Wilson had ordered the anthem to be performed during military ceremonies in 1916.

“Loren, you do realize Woodrow Wilson was the worst president in U.S. history,” I observed.

I believe this to be true.  The usual suspects can’t hold a candle to Wilson’s malfeasance because they were incompetent.

“I think Buchanan’s got that one wrapped up,” Jeremy Werner retorted.

Wilson was the worst because he wasn’t incompetent.  He was extremely intelligent, and used his power to suppress freedoms we take for granted today.

Shannon Ryan perked up at the Wilson criticism, reminding the group of Wilson’s fanatical white supremacism. “And he resegregated the civil service,” I responded.

“What about Andrew Jackson?” asked Scott Beatty.

“He killed a lot of Indians,” I answered. “So there’s that. But you have to understand the time …” I finished, weakly, not quite sure why that rationalization would exonerate any military leader.

Scott Richey asked about the Trail of Tears, having not heard other Scott’s question.

Turning back to Jeremy, wanting to make a point, I outed myself as a Buchanan apologist. “I disagree with 99% of U.S historian, including my father, about Buchanan,” I told them. “I think there’s strong Constitutional argument against keeping states that don’t want to be a part of the union.”

Abraham Lincoln disagreed with me, of course.   A few hundred thousand people died, and we still haven’t really won back the south. In fact, they seem to be running the show.

I don’t know whether any of these considerations will factor into Ayo’s decision. Our state is bankrupt, for sure. It’s because we provided health care for all children, and codified pension rights in our constitution.  Whatever we’ve built here in Illinois, the workers got paid to build it. In North Carolina, the labor was “free.”

And now that white nationalists feel emboldened by their president to rally in public, we know that a lot of those unreconstructed southerners wish to return to those “good ole days.”

Not me.

My defense of James Buchanan is theoretical. As a matter of principle, Lincoln won the argument.

I hope Ayo gets a chance to meet with the football staff during his Official Visit. In these difficult times, it’s reassuring to have Lovie Smith, Hardy Nickerson and Garrick McGee representing the state of Illinois.  For the country, it’s never been more urgent to have capable,  talented, erudite black men who aren’t afraid to speak their minds intelligently and compassionately about the importance of free speech, peaceful protest, and fundamental rights.

For the record, I agree with them. That’s my opinion.








Illini football

Illini 31, MSU 27

AD Josh Whitman hugs Illini captain Joe Spencer

Hey, guess what? Illini 31, MSU 27. That’s what.

You might want to remember this game. So here are some pictures of it, snapped by Vashoune Russell. Postgame comments from the coaches and players are here, too.


Sam Mays hauls in the game-winner
Kendrick Foster disappears in the distance

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Foster rushed for 146 yards against the Spartans

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Ainslie Johnson found himself all alone in the end zone. Fortunately, so did Jeff George Jr.
Luke Butkus’s line got the job done
Lovie watches as Luke Butkus instructs the offense

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Ooh, ooh Jeff, over here! Over here Jeff!

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Reggie Corbin cuts left
Jaylen Dunlap returned a fumble recovery for 12 yards
Illini football

The Chayce Crouch Era?

Wes Lunt crumpled into a dormant pile.

When Wes Lunt crumpled into a dormant heap last Saturday, Illinois’ offense sprang (unanticipatedly?) to life. Everyone knew Chayce Crouch was good for only one thing: faking a hand-off then running the ball himself.

For a number of snaps, that’s exactly what Chayce Crouch did. Time and again, it worked. Purdue must have known it was coming, but they couldn’t stop it.

Call it a draw, or a naked bootleg or a misdirection or any other term for quarterback keeper. It got the Illini offense moving downfield.

Chayce Crouch runs downfield.

Then something weird happened. Chayce Crouch attempted a pass.  It failed, of course, because Chayce Crouch is good for one thing only.

Then something really weird happened.  Chayce Crouch completed a pass. Wholly new territory, right? Confused Illini fans, beginning to question whether bears actually do shit in the woods, and feeling less certain about the pope’s religious affiliation, watched Chayce Crouch complete 10-of-14 passes for 142 yards.

Chayce Crouch looks to pass (sic).

Some of these passes traveled mostly through the air. They were not simple pitch plays followed by long runs.

Because he fumbled in overtime, and because Illinois ultimately lost the game, the beginning of The Chayce Crouch Era ended on a somber note.

By Monday lunchtime, Lovie Smith was already referring to Crouch as the back-up. Lunt was unable to practice, “obviously,” said the coach. But he’s still the starter.

Reading between the lines and the coachspeak, what does that mean? It means you should expect Chayce Crouch to enjoy a career day against the Big Ten’s worst team.

Chayce Crouch was head-over-heels for this touchdown.

Maybe Lunt will play, if he and the team’s medical staff decide he’s up to it. Maybe Lovie will employ two QBs simply to throw Rutgers off balance. Why wouldn’t he? Lunt has been competent, if not exciting.  You don’t worry that he’ll toss the ball casually into coverage. He showed, at Nebraska, that he’s learned to spot a gaping hole and run toward it.

But it’s hard to believe that we won’t see Chayce Crouch taking snaps for the third week in a row. Unless and until he proves that his fumble wasn’t a rarity, or his offensive numbers an anomaly, Illinois has no reason to keep him on the sidelines.

Illini football

Introducing Vashoune Russell, photographer

Lovie Smith says “oh no he didn’t get to the three yard line” or something of that sort. (Vashoune Russell)

Perhaps you noticed a change with the pictures here at IlliniReport. Suddenly, after years of mediocrity, they don’t suck.

After 14 years coaching Urbana High sports, including the last seven as head boys basketball coach, Vashoune Russell decided to hang up his whistle and instead wrap a Canon Mark IV around his neck.

Some of you may remember Vashoune as the skinny, quiet kid on the Leal School playground. I know I do. On the other hand, many of you will be stunned to learn that Vashoune was once skinny.

Our long association is the reason IlliniReport is the place you’ll see his photography this season. But I expect you’ll see his work elsewhere, too, once the secret gets out.

Here’s a sampling of the moments he captured Saturday in Lincoln, Nebraska.


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)


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?


Here it is, in full. Read it.

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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, 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.
Illini Basketball

Mikey Dudek is running, jumping and stop-starting

Yesterday, I went to the Illini football practice with photographer Vashoune Russell. We were interested in seeing which O-Line guys got the most reps as a “starting five.”

We failed. It wasn’t really that kind of practice.

Instead, we saw Bob Ligashesky repping with the punt team. We saw Tim McGarigle running the linebacking squad through a tackling drill.


Yes, we also saw Luke Butkus working with the O-Line, but the rest of the offensive unit didn’t join them. And no particular group seemed to be working together. It was technique work, not teamwork.

While Vashoune was taking pictures of the O-Line, Mikey Dudek and Dre Brown (both in uniform, neither in pads) ran 40-yard sprints on the sidelines. Dudek wore a functional post-op ligament knee brace to keep his twice torn ACL in place. But he moved well, particularly when jumping repeatedly from left to right as a wide-receiver might do when attempting to juke a cornerback.

He appeared perfectly healthy, and by no means taking it easy. I took that as a good sign. Brown did not join in the jumping, but he too ran at top speed.

Images by Vashoune Russell.

Illini football

(Over)heard at B1G Media Days

You already know Big Ten Media Days took place Monday and Tuesday in Chicago, and that Illinois was part of the Tuesday grouping. Maybe you’ve read and seen enough of the columns and videos chronicling the event.

I watched the videos I recorded, to remind myself of the most interesting things I learned. For people who like to read about sports at work, and can’t get away with watching videos, here’s a summary.


Wes Lunt didn’t come right out and say it, but he doesn’t expect to hear Lovie Smith yell at anyone, ever. Yelling doesn’t seem like Lovie’s style, so that shouldn’t surprise anyone. We already knew the staff doesn’t employ four-letter words.

On Tuesday, a reporter tried to conjure a situation in which Lovie might lose his cool. Lunt couldn’t fathom such a situation.


If there’s a surefire NFL draft pick on the roster, the experts think it’s Dawaune Smoot, who oesn’t mind when people mispronounce his name. It’s Dah-WAHN. “I don’t know why my father put an E on the end,” he mused.

To this point, Smoot says he’s learned the most from Mike Phair, which makes sense. Phair is his position coach, and  a carryover from the Cubit administration. Phair, and every other assistant coach knows how to pronounce Smoot’s name. Love calls him Dwayne. Or maybe it’s Dwyane.


In various phrasings, reporters asked Lovie about Y1 goals. He downplayed every time.

Lovie said Illinois has good players at every position, but not much depth. He said he hopes his team will b eat every team it should beat, based on roster quality and experience. If you choose to read between the lines, you might infer that he expects a final record equaling the low expectations of pre-season prognosticators.

He inferred, strongly, that recruiting is going MUCH better in the Chicago area than anyone seems to believe. He said he plans to sign 25 guys in the class of 2017.


Couldn’t resist the clickbait phrasing, but there’s no arrow to click here. Lovie quizzed the media on the purpose of defense, the single goal.

One guy got it right: to score.

So it appears that  active hands will be ripping at untucked balls in the coming years. Also, Lovie dislikes the recommendation that NCAA football rid itself of kick-offs, for safety reasons. He noted that Bears fans came to Soldier Field hoping to see Devin Hester return a punt for touchdown. “Fans like seeing Devin Hester run the ball back.”


Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta positioned himself against a sturdy table as the Hawkeye media pool surrounded him, ready to pounce. Barta’s revenue sports are doing okay, but he’s under scrutiny for firing of administrator Jane Meyer because she’s a lesbian. Monday saw a major development in the case.

Barta reassigned Meyer outside athletics in 2014, noting that her partner, former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum, was planning to sue Barta over her firing. Griesbaum was fired for Tim Beckmanesque reasons. The athletic department was able to drum up a tale of player abuse.

In Beckman’s case, sufficient evidence allowed the DIA to invoke a termination-for-cause paragraph in Beckman’s contract. The DIA was delighted, naturally, because the underlying motivation for his firing was Beckman’s fecklessness & embarrassing stupidity. Griesbaum led her Hawkeye team for 14 seasons. Incompetence was not an issue in her case.

The funny thing about Barta’s moment with the media was the way it began. As you’ve seen from my videos of Athletic Availabilities, the cameras and microphones crowd around the interviewee, positioning themselves so microphones are near the correct mouth, and cameras point to the desired face. Then there’s a quiet, sometimes awkward period, when everyone wonders who’ll ask the first question.

The guy who spoke first in the Barta interview surveyed the cameras, noted that everyone was in place, and then said something like “okay, go ahead.”  Barta responded “hi, how are you?”

I thought that was funny, and humanizing. But Barta’s seen enough of these situations to know that the guy was performing a service on behalf of everyone involved.


Illini fans will be delighted to learn that catch-phrase wristbands will not be a part of Lovie’s program. Rather than relying on contrived clichés to motivate his players, Lovie plans to teach them how to play football. They might be tough, and they might be together, but they’re not developing any mantras about it.

When asked about a slogan for the team, Ke’Shawn Vaughn drew a blank.


Lovie figures that, since his hiring in March, he’s spent the majority of his nights in Champaign.  Apart from some round-the-state meet-n-greets with boosters and fans, he’s been here.  To fans who thought he might take the Blagojevich approach to downstate Illinois (Lovie and MaryAnne maintain a home in Chicago) that’s probably a relief.

Lovie didn’t know that September’s home game versus Western Michigan was originally scheduled for Kalamazoo. He’s glad the site was changed. Would a road game at a MAC team prepare the Illini for road games versus B1G foes? Lovie demurred. He’s glad to play at home.

He doesn’t see a reason to pull up roots for Camp Rantoul either, noting that Champaign’s facilities are world class, so why wouldn’t the team utilize them? The guy who does laundry, he mused, had to drive back to Champaign every night.


Lovie didn’t flinch when asked about Lunt’s NFL potential. Neither did Lunt.

Lovie asked whether any media had attended the Kickoff Banquet earlier in the day. We all got free box lunches, across the street from the $100/plate affair. So … no.

Lovie told of a raffle in which the winner receives a football. Lovie intimated that ball was heaved to the winner from the dais, that Lunt was the guy who heaved it, and that the recipient sat toward the back of the banquet hall. Lovie suggested the Lunt hit his target in the hands, but not necessarily that the ball was caught. So the dropped pass problem continues for Lunt. But Lovie said that’s not Lunt’s fault.

Wes said he has an idea of his plans for the future, and where he’ll prepare for the NFL Draft. He didn’t give a stock answer like “I’m just thinking about this season.” There’s a refreshing lack of cliché to this team.

Lovie did say that a successful senior season will be the most significant factor in burnishing Lunt’s draft status. It’s hard to argue with that logic. Lunt agreed that his offensive line is the most important ingredient in that success, and added that nothing’s changed in the depth chart, where six (maybe seven) guys are competing for five spots. Lovie is high on (redshirt) sophomore guard Nick Allegretti, and referenced his heavyweight wrestling championship. (Allegretti finished third in state, so Lovie was probably referencing his Illini Classic title, five months later.)

Christian DiLauro and Austin Schmidt are regarded as solid, experienced tackles. At center, Joe Spencer started every game of the last two seasons. Lunt regards them as cemented in the starting spots.

The other guard is Gabe Megginson, arguably Illinois’ highest-rated recruit of the past five years. But along with him and Allegretti, Lunt said Zach Heath and Connor Brennan will be competing for the starting guard spots.


Lovie’s quiet confidence and no-nonsense demeanor is a 180° departure from Beckman’s continual Deer-in-Headlights routine. Where Mr. Lasagna always seemed as if he’d just been stunned by a fastball to the forehead, Lovie exudes the impression that he’s seen it all before, that nothing will surprise him.

It’s the last go-round for Smoot, Lunt, DiLauro, Spencer and Schmidt. Lovie seems unconcerned about getting them to a bowl game. But that’s completely different from saying that he won’t do everything he can to lead them there.

Illini football

B1G Football Media Days – download all the media guides

It’s a gorgeous day on the Near South Side of Chicago. Illinois is now relevant in football for the first time in a decade, so I made my inaugural appearance at the B1G Football Media Days. Scroll down to see what Lovie Smith & Josh Whitman had to say during the morning session.

Those two will press the flesh at the $100/plate Kickoff Luncheon here at the Hyatt Regency-McCormick Place. They’ll return later this afternoon for more Q&A, along with Wes Lunt, Ke’Shawn Vaughn & Dawuane Smoot.

While you’re waiting, peruse each and every one of the Big Ten schools’ media guides. You’ll find them all here.

Also, you’ll want to read, watch and listen to other Illini media in attendance, so here’s a (likely incomplete) list

Herb Gould – Sun-Times

Vinnie Duber – Comcast SportsNet

Jeremy Werner – Scout

Bill Bender – Sporting News

Shannon Ryan & Teddy Greenstein – Chicago Tribune

Matt Daniels, Bob Asmussen & Loren Tate – Champaign News-Gazette

Mark Tupper – Decatur Herald-Tribune

Steve Kelly & Brian Barnhart – WDWS

Doug Bucshon & Jonathan Joffe – Rivals

Gordon Voit –

There are surely others, I just didn’t see them.

Here’s what Lovie and Josh said this morning.