When Lovie Smith took over the coaching reins at Illinois, he knew that big changes were needed. He had to change the culture. He had to change expectations of failure. And, perhaps most of all, he had to improve the baseline level of talent around the program.
To chase all three issues, Smith went out and hired Cory Patterson, the head coach at Trinity Catholic (St. Louis, Mo.) as tight ends coach. In Patterson, Smith not only added one of the nation’s most-hyped head coaches, he also gained immediate access to one of the nation’s deepest talent pools.
When Patterson headed to Illinois in January of 2018, he left behind a triumvirate of elite recruits. He landed two of the three, with quarterback/athlete Isaiah Williams and linebacker Shammond Cooper both choosing the Illini.
Now another two Trinity Catholic stars are headed to Illinois, with four-star wide receiver James Frenchie the most recent addition.
Frenchie ranks just outside the nation’s top 50 wide receiver recruits and a top-five overall prospect in Missouri. He also knows exactly what one of his new coaches wants and could find his way on to the field quickly, not unlike Williams and Cooper likely will this fall.
All of which underscores just how much of a coup the addition of Patterson has been for Illinois, and how essential recruiting elite high school coaches on to collegiate staffs can be. It’s too early to tell if Smith will completely turn the tide in Illinois, but if he does, you can bet that Patterson will be a big part of it.