Former Bears coach Lovie Smith has been named head coach at the University of Illinois.
Smith, who reportedly signed a six-year, $21 million contract, will be officially introduced in Champaign today at a 2 p.m. news conference.
"Josh approached me about this possibility, and I immediately seized on the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the young men who are part of the program today and in the future," Smith said in a statement. "I take this responsibility very seriously and can't wait to get a staff in place to start our move to make Illinois a contender for Big Ten titles."
Whitman feels that Smith is the perfect coach to lead the Illinois program.
"Naming Lovie Smith as the Illinois head football coach is the first step in taking this program to a place of national prominence," Whitman said in a statement. "The timing for this move was extremely tight, and we needed to move quickly. A coach of Lovie's caliber would not have been available to us if we had waited until after the 2016 season."
Smith served as Bears coach for nine seasons from 2004-12, compiling an 81-63 record in the regular-season and 3-3 in the playoffs. He won three division titles and one NFC championship. Smith ranks third in franchise history in victories behind Hall of Famers George Halas (324) and Mike Ditka (112).
After leaving the Bears, Smith spent one year out of football before being hired as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was fired Jan. 6 after two seasons, even though the Buccaneers had improved from 2-14 in 2014 to 6-10 in 2015.
Smith last coached at the collegiate level in 1995 when he served as a defensive backs assistant at Ohio State. He also previously worked at Tulsa (1983-86), Wisconsin (1987), Arizona State (1988-91), Kentucky (1992) and Tennessee (1993-94).