Lovie Smith has been a football coach at various levels of the game since 1980, including a long stint as head coach of the Chicago Bears, a shorter one as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and various assistant jobs. Ever since 2016, right after he was fired by Tampa Bay, Smith has been the head coach of the University of Illinois’ football team.
For most of that time, Smith has been bald and clean-shaven. He had a short white beard last season and then, on Thursday, Smith arrived for Big Ten Media Day with a beard much longer – long enough to get Smith’s name trending No. 1 on Twitter for a time on Thursday afternoon.
Smith, who has an overall win/loss record of 9-27 during his three years as coach of the Illini, is facing a make or break year in his fourth season in Champaign/Urbana. But a lot of the discussion online about his first national press availability of the season centered on the coach’s distinctive facial hair.
Many commented that coaching at such a win-challenged program as Illinois makes someone go gray very quickly. Others made jokes that Smith doesn’t need to use FaceApp, and still others predicted that a “Lovie Smith’s Beard” Twitter account will inevitably appear.
One Twitter user said that Smith looked like 1970s Saturday Night Live actor Garrett Morris. Shadow League, in another tweet, compared him to the late comedian Dick Gregory. The Super 70s Sports Twitter account likened the coach’s new look to “one of Fred Sanford’s buddies.”
“Lovie Smith takes podium first,” Steven M. Sipple, who covers Nebraska football, tweeted. “Lovie’s beard remains marvelous, formidable. His defense last year… not formidable.”
Smith, he said, was scheduled to appear after Nebraska coach Scott Frost, but the order was switched up because Frost’s plane was late.
Chicago Sun-Times writer Madeline Kenney said on Twitter that Smith had told her that his wife likes the beard.
Lovie Smith on the day he was introduced as the new Illinois head coach and Lovie Smith today. Three years apart. Coaching Illinois football ages you horribly. pic.twitter.com/ilDyLNUzbC
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) July 18, 2019
Big Ten Media Days are held in Chicago, where the conference’s football coaches meet the media to talk about the upcoming season. The event is seen as something of an unofficial kickoff of the college football season for the conference.
The Fighting Illini, per their official schedule on the Illinois Athletic Department website, will kick off the season against Akron on August 31. Their Big Ten season begins when they host Nebraska on September 21.
Smith received a two-year contract extension from Illinois during the season last year, per CBS Sports.