CHAMPAIGN — Rod Smith, who most recently was the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Arizona, looks to be Lovie Smith’s choice as the University of Illinois’ new offensive coordinator.
Multiple sources say Rod Smith will replace Garrick McGee, who was fired on Dec. 23.
Rod Smith has close ties to Rich Rodriguez, the former head coach at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona. He was Rodriguez’s quarterbacks coach who helped oversee the development of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.
In a memorable game in 2010, Robinson and the Wolverines outlasted the Illini and Nathan Scheelhaase, 67-65, in three overtimes.
Last season at Arizona, the offense averaged 41.3 points (fifth in the country) and 489.5 yards (12th in the country) per game.
By comparison, the Illini offense averaged 15.4 points and 280.4 yards per game in 2017. In each category, Illinois ranked 126th nationally.
Because of his work with dual-threat quarterbacks, Smith seems like a logical fit for an Illini program that has been exclusively recruiting pass-run QBs since Lovie Smith arrived.
Rod Smith has been an effective recruiter and has experience recruiting in California and Arizona.
A university spokesman said a formal announcement of the addition of new assistant coaches should be coming as soon as the university signs off on the process. Lovie Smith also is hiring a cornerbacks coach and is adding a 10th assistant coach, as allowed by new NCAA rules.
Among his other stops, Rod Smith has been offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at South Florida; quarterbacks coach at West Virginia; quarterbacks coach at Michigan; and co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Indiana before joining Rodriguez’s staff at Arizona in 2012.
He inherits a thin quarterback class at Illinois with sophomore-to-be Cam Thomas the only scholarship quarterback on campus.
Thomas will be joined this summer by incoming freshman M.J. Rivers. Sources say Lovie Smith hopes to have four scholarship quarterbacks on the roster by the time training camp opens in August.
That would presumably include a graduate transfer and another freshman recruit. Peoria High School’s Coran Taylor verbally committed to the Illini and could sign in February, assuming his academics are in order.
Arizona has a quarterback who could graduate early and be eligible immediately should he decide to transfer. That’s Brandon Dawkins, who started nine games for Arizona in 2016 and five in 2017, but appears to have lost the job to Khalil Tate.