Dec 30, 2019; Santa Clara, California, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Lovie Smith during the fourth quarter against the California Golden Bears at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

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Illinois fires Smith after five seasons

Illinois fired football coach Lovie Smith after five seasons, the school announced Sunday.

He will not coach the season finale next week against an opponent still to be announced by the Big Ten, athletic director Josh Whitman said. A school statement said a national search for the next coach will begin immediately.

Offensive coordinator Rod Smith will coach in the season finale.

Smith took over the Fighting Illini in the 2016 season, and his teams were 17-39 (10-33 Big Ten.) His best record was 6-7 in 2019, a season that ended with a 35-20 loss to Cal in the Redbox Bowl.

The Illini (2-5) lost Saturday to No. 14 Northwestern, 28-10.

Smith, 62, played linebacker and defensive back at Tulsa (1976-79) before turning to coaching. He was the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams (2001-03), then was hired to coach the Chicago Bears.

In Smith’s nine seasons in Chicago, his teams were 81-63. He was NFL coach of the year in 2005, after the team went from 5-11 in his first season to 11-5. The Bears won the NFC championship in 2006, losing Super Bowl XLI to the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts, 29-17.

He was fired after the 2012 season when the Bears started 7-1 but finished 10-6 and failed to make the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.

Smith also coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to an 8-24 record in the 2014-15 seasons.

The Illini haven’t finished their regular season with a record above .500 since 2007, when they were 9-4 and represented the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl — a 49-17 loss to Southern California.

Illinois is the third Power Five conference school to be searching for a new coach, following Vanderbilt and Arizona.

–Field Level Media

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