Just hours after the official news that former Bucs coach Lovie Smith was the new head coach at Illinois, two of his greatest former players said they're excited to see him returning to coaching and expect him to find success again at the college level.
"It's a good opportunity -- seems he's bouncing back and landing on his feet," said former Bucs defensive back Ronde Barber, playing at the pro am at Innisbrook on Monday. "The bug's in him. I don't think he feels great about how he left here and he's going to take his chances and go to college. I'm happy for him. The landscape of college football is way different than it used to be, but Lovie's an honorable coach, a guy who respects his players. He brings a wealth of knowledge."
Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks said he had a chance to talk to Smith about the new job and said he's most encouraged by the enthusiasm he heard in his voice about the new challenge he'll have as a college head coach.
"The juice is going -- it's in a part of the country where he's had a lot of his success as a coach," Brooks said of Smith's nine seasons as Bears head coach. "I'm excited to see what he's going to bring. I know how much of an influence he was on me as a young man, so I can imagine how he's going to influence the young men that go to the University of Illinois. He's looking forward to it, and I think that's critical."
Brooks and Smith have a new relationship now, one that can actually limit their contact -- Brooks' son Decalon is a coveted college prospect who is piling up scholarship offers, and Smith will be another coach in the hunt for his services.
"It was the last unofficial conversation I can have with him, because of my son," Brooks said. "We had our fun about that. The overall picture of this opportunity for him is one I'm excited to see him go for."