Big Ten Playbook: Lovie one-and-done at Illinois? Nah.

So Lovie Smith is ``miserable’’ at Illinois and might bolt back to the NFL after just one season in Champaign?

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I get the ``miserable’’ part. Here’s a guy who used to coach Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, among the NFL's best players and did it pretty well, guiding the venerable Chicago Bears to an 81-63 record in nine seasons, including a Super Bowl appearance.

And now, after dealing with the Vikings, he’s getting clobbered by the Golden Gophers? And losing to Purdue, which fired its coach not long after that?[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

I have no doubt that my ESPN.com friend, Adam Rittenberg, had good reasons and good sources for asking, ``Could Lovie be one and done’’ in Champaign?

The gist: Smith now feels the Illinois ``rebuilding job looks much greater than he anticipated.’’

Even Adam’s ESPN.com report hedged pretty seriously, though: ``A source close to Smith says no, [he won’t be one and done,] and that while the rebuild is extreme, Smith should be rejuvenated after signing his own recruiting class. Then again, if the NFL expresses renewed interest in Smith, all bets are off.’’

All credit to Adam for raising an interesting topic.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, right? But I’m not running for the water bucket on this one.

Lovie did all the denial stuff, naturally, at his Monday dog-and-pony show.

``I’m going to respond to it one time,’’ he said. ``Am I happy right now with where we are? No one on our football team is happy where we are right now. [But] my time in Champaign, it’s a little bit bigger than just where we are right now. We’re going to win a lot of games eventually. There’s not much more than that. I would not get into speculation.’’

Fair enough. Lovie, who’s not warm and fuzzy, is entitled to drop-kick a speculative report, especially one that pretty much walks back its own speculation.

So what’s the deal?

There are any number of possibilities.

For one, maybe Lovie’s letting NFL teams know that he would accept a head-coaching offer.

Seems like a reach. While he did some good work as a coach, he’s not Mr. Warmth to those who don’t know him; he's not going to sell a sagging football team with his charm. And he’s more of an NFL defensive coordinator candidate than a head coach at this point.

And obviously, it would be better to ride out the Champaign thing than go back to being a DC.

For another, maybe he wants something. I can't imagine that it’s more money for himself; he’s got a really good deal at Illinois if he sticks around. More money for his assistants or facilities? That’s a proposition for down the road, when there are some results. And Illinois already has pretty good facilities.

The other possibility is that this isn’t coming from the Smith camp.

Since Adam is not one to stir the pot without reason, maybe somebody mis-spoke or. . . who knows?

My best guess: Someone heard from the Lovie camp that he’s truly realizing that reviving Illinois is a taller order than he originally thought, and that got passed along.

If a really good NFL job opened up and they wanted him, Lovie Smith would have to think about that.

The problem is, a lot of people, notably assistant coaches, are depending on him. Could he bring them? Unlikely. That would be one hell of an offer—the kind of offer that’s not likely to be coming his way.

Bottom line: Smith is feeling discouraged. There’s a month to go in this season, and he doesn’t have the players to compete—even against this week’s opponent, Michigan State, which is the Big Ten flop of the year, and in the discusson for national disaster relief.

Lovie’s a competitor. None of this sits well. And he’s not loosey-goosey, not a guy who’s going to deal with getting his hind-quarters kicked at the college level.

It’s understandable that he’s feeling low, and somebody somewhere has interpreted that.

In short, I don’t see this turning into anything of substance at this point. But if the frustration continues to build, that’s a different story.

And that can happen at Illinois. Since Illini legend Ray Eliot left in 1959, only two coaches have compiled winning records in their Illinois careers. Mike White left in NCAA-violation disgrace. And John Mackovic bolted for Texas.

It’s a tough place to win. If Lovie didn’t know that already, maybe he’s starting to understand that now.[/membership]

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