UF FOOTBALL

Win over FSU reignites Zook frenzy


University of Florida head coach Ron Zook waves to supporters on his way out Monday from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

ROB C. WITZEL/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, November 23, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 22, 2004 at 11:26 p.m.
Just when it looked like this surreal and controversial Florida football season had calmed down with the acceptance of Ron Zook's firing, the Gators went and changed everything by going to Tallahassee and upsetting then-No. 10 Florida State on Saturday night.
That unexpected victory has given Zook supporters - especially his players, who have stood staunchly behind him since he was fired Oct. 25 - another opportunity to question and criticize UF's decision to fire him.
The players, in fact, were preparing to march to UF President Bernie Machen's office Monday afternoon to protest the firing and demand that Zook be re-hired. But the march was canceled after Zook told his players in their weekly Monday meeting that it would not accomplish anything.
"The decision (to fire Zook) has already been made and it's not going to change," sophomore punter Eric Wilbur said. "It (marching to Machen's office) would have been meaningless."
Said senior defensive back Zephrin Augustine: "Coach Zook told us not to do it. He said winning (Saturday night) was enough. There's really nothing we can do about the decision (to fire Zook)."
Word of the planned march spread on the Internet and talk radio Monday morning and dozens of members of the media had gathered near the Florida Field locker room waiting for the players to emerge from their afternoon meeting.
When they did, they hopped on scooters, got into cars or walked off toward their dorm rooms. There was no march.
"Some players wanted to march, some didn't," senior offensive lineman Mo Mitchell said.
"I'm going home to play video games," sophomore linebacker Channing Crowder said.
Augustine said the team still plans to send a letter to Machen and UF athletic director Jeremy Foley expressing their support for Zook and asking UF to reconsider its decision and rehire Zook. The two-page letter was drafted by Coleen Martinez, a 2003 UF graduate from West Virginia, and sent to numerous media outlets Monday. Martinez is friends with Augustine and senior strong safety Cory Bailey. By Monday afternoon, Martinez had gathered signatures of 24 players who approved the letter.
"I think it's a really good letter," Augustine said. "Everybody on the team that read it seemed to like it. We're going to send it. You never know what's going to happen. We feel like this is Coach Zook's team and he should stay. We feel strongly about it."
Others apparently share the sentiment, based on many of the callers on talk radio, letters to the editor in The Sun and some of the posts on Internet chat sites, where UF is getting a great deal of criticism for the way it has handled the situation.
Although UF's firing of Zook is coming under much scrutiny in the wake of Saturday night's victory, there is no chance UF will reverse field and rehire the player-friendly coach, several sources inside the athletic department confirmed Monday.
Many major Gator boosters apparently will be relieved to hear that.
"I haven't talked to anybody today who feels just because they won that game in Tallahassee that we shouldn't go forward with the decision that was made," said Larry Martin, a Bull Gator from Ocala. "The problem is the Gator Nation is so divided and I don't think anything Zook does is ever going to unify everybody. To unify everybody, they have to go in a different direction. I've talked to a lot of boosters today, and they all feel the same way.
"Everyone was happy for Zook and the team the other night. They deserved it. Any Gator is going to be tickled to death to win over there. People felt good for Ron, but I haven't talked to anybody who felt the decision (to fire Zook) was wrong and we have to go back on it."
It is difficult to judge the kind of feedback UF is getting in the aftermath of Saturday's game.
The tenor or the amount of e-mails received by Machen since UF's win is unknown. Machen has deleted the e-mails.
Meanwhile, there's a good chance that Saturday night's game was Zook's last at UF. He met with Foley on Monday to discuss the possibility of coaching the Gators in their bowl game (probably the Peach on Dec. 31 in Atlanta), but Zook still is considering his options and is not ready to make a decision.
Zook told UF officials he needed some more time and might not decide until next week.
In an interview with Florida Today on Sunday morning, it sounded like Zook might be gone.
"Right now, I feel like I've done my obligation to the University of Florida," Zook said. "I've done it to the best of my ability. I don't feel I owe them anything else."
Until Foley hires a new coach, the rumors will continue. Recently, they seem to be out of control.
Last month, ESPN reported a rumor that Steve Spurrier had 24 hours to let UF know if he was interested in returning as head Gator (which wasn't true). Last week, an Internet report had Utah coach Urban Meyer accepting the job offer from UF (also not true).
On Friday, ESPN was preparing to broadcast that Foley would be fired. UF Vice President of University Relations Jane Adams was called in to dispel the rumor.
"I said it was absolutely untrue," Adams said. "Bernie Machen has full confidence in Jeremy Foley."
You can reach Robbie Andreu by e-mail at andreur@ gvillesun.com or by calling (352) 374-5022.

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