Behind the negotiations for Lovie Smith

Whitman and Lovie Smith's agent, his son Matt, discuss negotiation process

Matt Smith has negotiated a few deals for his father, Lovie, including his previous contract as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach.

Matt's negotiation with Illinois, though, wasn't exactly the hard-lined approach they taught him at the Loyola School of Law.

"I would say this was sort of an awful negotiation," Matt said with a laugh. "It was very easy. It comes from the fact that everybody wanted to get it done. You want everybody to walk away with both people winning. I think that’s the case here. I think everybody’s comfortable.”

Not to say Lovie Smith was short-changed.

The 25th Illini football coach and Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman agreed on six-year contract worth $21 million with the potential for Lovie to earn athletic and academic incentives. Lovie will make $2 million in 2016 and 2017, $3 million in 2018, $4 million in 2019 and $5 million in 2020 and 2021.

“We were able, I think to put together a very creative contract that allows us the flexibility on the front end to do what we need to do but ultimately supports him on the back end," Whitman said.

Both sides seem happy with the deal.

Whitman feels he respected Smith -- who will receive $6 million over the next two years from the Buccaneers -- but also got the university a bit of a bargain, even though Smith's deal dwarfs the contract Tim Beckman signed in 2011 (five years, $9 million).

Spread out the money evenly over six years and Smith will earn an average of $3.5 million annually, which would have ranked sixth in the Big Ten last season -- behind Michigan's Jim Harbaugh ($7 million), Ohio State's Urban Meyer ($5.9 million), Penn State's James Franklin ($4.4 million), Iowa's Kirk Ferentz ($4.1 million) and Michigan State's Mark Dantoinio ($3.7 million).

“It's a lot of millions of dollars," Whitman said. "But as counterintuitive as it sounds, that isn’t one of the highest paid coaches in America. It’s in the top group, certainly. He’s been very understanding of some of our challenges. We recognize that we’re coming through some very difficult financial times as a department. We also realize that a couple years from now, we expect our revenues to increase with some enhanced revenue from the conference office.”

The contract includes a mitigation cause and a liquidated damages provision.

Matt Smith said Illinois came in with a competitive number. Illinois also committed a very competitive assistant salary pool of about $4 million of which Smith can use to attract his staff. That figure would be the third highest in the Big Ten last year (behind only Ohio State and Michigan) and a big jump from the previous staff assistant pool of $2.4 million.

“You listen to Josh I think you can see why it wasn’t  necessarily a very hard deliberation," Matt Smith said. "He really inspires confidence. He has a very clear vision on what he wants to do. His vision along with coach’s vision aligned very closely. It wasn’t this whole he’s at one of the spectrum and my father’s at the other. They were very close already so there was a lot less that had to go into finding this common ground. They were already there.”

As for whether it was an "awful" negotiation, Whitman said: “It’s all a question of perspective. I thought it was a great negotiation. It was very collaborative. I’ve been involved in a number of negotiations and when you have a common goal, it makes it much more doable and much more enjoyable. It never once felt adversarial. …We were thrilled with how quickly we do it.”


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