Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Commentary: Illinois Owes Fans an Apology

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Commentary: Illinois Owes Fans an Apology

Article excerpt

CHAMPAIGN, ILL. * It's just not Lovie Smith's style.

But if the Illini's football coach had any compassion for his dwindling number of fans he would have opened his Monday news conference with a public apology.

There is a minimum level of performance that should be expected by any team that is going to charge admission, and Illinois failed to live up to that very low standard in a 35-24 loss to Rutgers.

As has been chronicled many times, this is a historically young football team, leaning heavily on freshmen. They're learning on the fly. Mistakes are inevitable. But youth has nothing to do with effort and passion and acting like this is the most important game of the year, because it was the most important game of the year.

Freshmen should play like their hair is on fire, excited beyond belief to be an 18-year-old given a chance to play college football. Older players should be stoked to have not been passed over by the kids.

And the coaching staff should have them leaping around with a fervor that can be felt by those loyal people who still care enough to be counted in the stands.

That was absent Saturday. And Lovie Smith, the emotionless leader, missed a chance to calmly apologize for more missed tackles, penalties and turnovers than we can count.

Let's be clear. It isn't that Smith doesn't care. He does. And there are times when his too-cool-for-the-room demeanor is appropriate. He coached exactly the same in 2006 when his Chicago Bears went 13-3 and roared off to the Super Bowl.

But on rare occasions, it would benefit him to step outside his calm appearance and let his fans know that he's genuinely upset by a performance so flat it prompted starting quarterback Jeff George Jr., to say, "We didn't show up."

At least offensive coordinator Garrick McGee tried, saying he wasn't in favor of telling frustrated fans to hang in there, that better times are ahead.

"I'm not interested in telling our fans to be patient," he said Monday. "We need to do better on the practice field and go out and give them a better product on the field."

Watching the game from field level was a group of recruits who are considering the Illini. …

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