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How will Illinois' hire of Lovie Smith affect Missouri's recruiting?

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A tremor in the college football world hit earlier this week. Did you feel it?

The University of Illinois announced Monday that it was hiring Lovie Smith, formerly of the NFL – and Super Bowl – as its new head football coach. It’s a hire that I’m sure many people weren’t expecting. After all, Smith has been in the NFL for the past 20 years, 11 of them as the head coach for the Bears and Buccaneers. And many thought Smith’s firing in Tampa Bay was premature at best.

Going from that to coaching at Illinois seemed an unthinkable transition. But, alas, there he is. Illinois has gone the Michigan route, hiring a former big leaguer to coach in the college ranks.

So what does this mean for Mizzou football? Fans haven’t thought about Illinois football in quite some time, certainly not since 2010 when the two teams last met. But, at the risk of sounding reactionary, the Lovie Smith hiring means that Illinois football is "back," at least in a moderate sense.

It’s going to take some time for Lovie Smith to turn the Illinois program around. It’s one embedded in scandal and mediocrity over the past few years, and a culture change does not happens overnight.

But Lovie Smith brings an obvious sense of confidence to the table; he’s a former successful NFL coach and is known for having good relationships with players. Those are two things that should translate well from the NFL to the NCAA. And the recruiting question? That’ll be an adjustment. But on Tuesday morning, Smith was a guest on Bernie Miklasz’s radio show in St. Louis.

"As an NFL coach, there was free agency where you had to sell," Smith said. "I think it comes down to people trusting what you’re saying. And that’s recruiting."

There’s not reason for Missouri fans to be overly worried. Mizzou and Illinois aren’t scheduled to play anytime soon, though I imagine that conversation might reopen at some point. I’m more concerned about recruiting. Lovie Smith could make Illinois a threat to the Tigers again.

Over the past few years, Missouri has made a concerted effort to establish a recruiting stronghold in St. Louis, and that’s developed into a nice little pipeline. On the spring roster, 18 players are listed as being from the St. Louis area (I included the few from St. Charles and St. Peters). Among those players: Aarion Penton, Donavin Newsom, Michael Scherer, Cam Hilton, Nate Howard, etc. And that doesn’t even include players like Terry Beckner, Josh Augusta, and Tucker McCann, who fall on the Illinois side of the river.

This isn’t to say Missouri won’t continue to glean talent from just off the Mississippi. The Tigers still have a strong recruiter in Cornell Ford, who has good relationships in the area. They have had recent success with talent from the area (see: Penton, Beckner, Markus Golden.) And they also have multiple winning seasons in the past few yeras, the SEC bump and, most importantly, talented players in the NFL to which they can point.

Missouri’s recent strategy in recruiting has been to find guys that fit their system instead of swinging for the higher-rated players. It’s not the most popular strategy with fans – and it might be subject to change with Odom at the helm – but it does allow the staff to find players closer to home that Missouri is more likely to sway.

But adding Lovie Smith to the mix changes things. Now there’s another player in the market. Illinois doesn’t have the success or nearly the amount of NFL talent … but they do have an NFL-caliber coach, and Missouri is unproven with Barry Odom as their leader, the Smith hiring should get Tiger fans at least slightly anxious when it comes to recruiting. Smith is far more likely to draw away a talent like Tre’vour Simms than Bill Cubit or Tim Beckman.

So where do I fall on a worried scale of 1-10? I’m probably at about a 4; it registers, but doesn’t have me sweating. I like Odom, and I think the Tigers will have enough success to continue building on the brand that Gary Pinkel set in place since the SEC move. But Lovie Smith is a good coach, and at the very least he’ll bring excitement to the Illinois football program, if not success with it. He’ll definitely swing some recruits that Missouri could have got otherwise.

And if the Tigers have another down year in the near future? Well, the Lovie Smith name might be a little more enticing to recruits than Barry Odom.

To finish off this post with some positive vibes, I’m glad that Smith is around. He’s a charismatic guy, and I hope his hiring brings the Mizzou-Illinois rivalry back to the discussion table in the near future. I remember my first Missouri football game was in 2002 when Brad Smith broke out against the Illini in St. Louis. Those were fun days, and I hope to see them again soon.