Epstein was a staunch supporter of former Illini coaches Bill and Ryan Cubit, but was blown away by new head coach Lovie Smith when he spoke to Smith Wednesday evening.
"We had a great talk!" Epstein said. "It was so cool. He knew everything about me. He was a really warm and personable guy. Just great vibes. He said he's getting the hang of the twitter thing, too."
It made a big impression on Epstein that Smith already knew so much about him. Between all of the radio and television commitments and appearances over his first couple days on the job, Smith found time to do his research on the program's first 2017 commit, and that reassured Epstein that he is an important piece of the Illini's future.
"He definitely did (his research)," Epstein said. "It really shows that he's on me and really likes me. He said I've made an incredible impression on his staff and that I'm a priority to him and the program. It means a lot that he spoke with me personally on just his second or third day on the job. No doubt about that."
Smith's hire has had a huge impact on the perception of the Illini program. And his pedigree as an NFL coach and his accolades in general really have Epstein's attention.
"I think this was an incredible hire," Epstein said. "He has great experience in the NFL and beyond. It really shows that they are serious about competing for titles again."
Illinois has also reportedly landed an offensive coordinator in former Louisville and Arkansas OC Garrick McGee, who played for Lovie at Arizona State. Epstein is still doing his research on McGee, but knows that he and Smith are tight.
"I don't know much about him," Epstein admitted, "but it sounds like a solid hire. I know Coach Smith has been close with him."
Epstein is eager to get a chance to meet Smith and his new staff once it's finalized. With spring football coming up in the next month or so, Epstein is hopeful he can take a visit back to Champaign to get to know the coaches.
Coming off of an injury last year, Epstein has been working to get back to top shape for his senior season. During that process, he has picked up offers from the likes of Syracuse and Michigan. If Illinois is able to keep him in the fold, it would be a sign that recruits are buying into the process that the new staff is putting in place.
Epstein might have been the first highly-regarded player to commit to the Illini in 2017, albeit under a prior staff, but he certainly won't be the last if others feel about this staff the same way he does.