CHAMPAIGN - As the Illinois pep band played Bruce Channel's familiar hit "Hey, Baby!", hundreds of Illinois students gathered at the Illini Union changed the lyrics.
"Heyyyyyyy, Hey Lo-vie! I wanna knooooooooow If you'll be my coach."
The love affair with Lovie Smith -- the new Illini football coach -- has begun.
The former Bears and Buccaneers coach, announced Monday morning as new Illini athletics director Josh Whitman's first hire (a bold one), has made Illinois football relevant and interesting again.
Whitman's tweet announcing the hire -- with a picture of he and Smith in the Memorial Stadium press box -- received more than 1,300 tweets in a few hours. National radio shows discussed Illinois football. Yes, Illinois football.
By 5 p.m., the Illinois ticket office had sold more than 1,000 new season-ticket packages and "growing fast," UI associate athletic director of ticketing Jason Heggemeyer said.
Hundreds of students -- who don't show up for games -- showed up to the Illini Union for what was supposed to be an impromptu meet and greet. Smith made a few short comments.
"This is what I've missed right here, the purity of the college experience," Smith said. "Having a good football team should be a base part of your college experience. I realize the pain of not having a successful football team. We're here to do something about that."
Smith was swarmed by students. He shook hands and took selfies for more than 25 minutes -- unlike any Illini football coach before him.