Published: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
Zook off and running
High-energy Zook takes SEC by storm
By ROBBIE ANDREU
Sun sports writer
Over the past several years, Florida's time slot at the SEC Media Days has always been the most anticipated and most entertaining of the week. Mainly because Steve Spurrier always spoke his mind and always had something to say and always provided good material for the hundreds of writers and broadcasters.
This week, UF's hour under the lights was greatly anticipated again. Mainly because Spurrier is gone and the media is wondering about this first-time head coach and how he's going to survive in the shadow of the legend.
Can he handle it? Can he make it in the SEC?
But after spending an hour with Ron Zook, the media had to be wondering this: Is the SEC ready for Zook, especially those who cover the league.
"How do you keep up with that guy?," one exasperated writer said.
Zook, of course, was his usual fast, frenetic, high-energy self as he talked about his job and replacing Steve Spurrier and the season ahead. He talked so fast, with so much excitement, writers were frantically pounding the keys of their computers trying to keep up - and failing.
"I'll bet you I haven't had four cups of coffee since I got the job," said Zook, when asked the source of his energy.
Quarterback Rex Grossman explained later that it's all natural. The new head ball coach is an emotional, excitable, fired-up kind of guy.
When Zook scurried off the podium after his question-and-answer session, there was a noticeable buzz in the room. It was almost as if some of Zook's energy had been absorbed by those in the audience.
"We had the same reaction when we first met him," Grossman said. "He got us fired up. He's going to be a player's coach. He's going to do everything in his power to get us an SEC title.
"He seems like a guy you'd want to play for. He's going to be a great recruiter and a great coach. It was an important factor in my decision to stay (this season rather than enter the NFL Draft). He's going to have some great pregame speeches. He's going to have us fired up."
Zook already is fired up. He's always fired up. And he's feeling good about his team and the season ahead.
"One of the things that's impressed me the most is the attitude our players have taken," Zook said. "People resist change. But the transition has been smooth because our players have bought into everything we've asked them to do and they've worked extremely hard.
"Just like my coaching staff and myself, the players are excited to get starter. This is the time of the year everyone is anticipating big things. There are a lot of questions about UF right now. To be honest, we like that."
There's a perception UF will suffer a drop-off in Spurrier's absence.
The players have been hearing it since Zook took over. But they seem to like that kind of talk.
"Any time there is a change, people get a little nervous," Grossman said. "But there is no reason this year won't be like any other year at Florida. People think it won't be, but we want them thinking like that, thinking the Gators have slipped a little bit.
"We've got a great coaching staff and we've got a lot of confidence in our coaches and I've got a lot of confidence in our players. I don't know why we shouldn't have a similar team. Coach Zook is very confident and coaches know what they're talking about. They're intense and have our program in the right direction. You just feel Coach Zook is going to do well."
From an offensive standpoint, Grossman said the Gators will be similar yet different. There will be lots of passing, but a more sophisticated running game than in the past.
"There will be a lot more shotgun and a lot more no huddle. We're going to have more options than the draw and the dropback pass," he said. "We're going to put the ball in the air and run it with a little more variety. I'm looking forward to this offense.
"I loved Coach Spurrier's offense, but I'm looking forward to this offense also. It's a little more diverse and a little more complicated. We should have a full arsenal to pick apart defenses."
While the media will continue to make Spurrier's departure a major issue, Grossman said it isn't one among the players.
"We're not even thinking about Coach Spurrier," he said. "We're wishing him well in Washington and we've moved on."
Zook certainly appears ready to move on, although he got the expected number of questions Wednesday about Spurrier and the pressure to replace him.
He was asked if he'd wear a visor and if he played golf.
He was asked if he felt he was on the hot seat - and whether athletic director Jeremy Foley is right there with him for making the hire.
He was asked if he'd be yelling at his quarterback and trying to score a lot of points.
And, of course, he was asked about the pressure. Over and over.
"I don't feel (I'm on the hot seat)," Zook said. "What makes the SEC such a great conference in the expectations, and obviously, we're expected to win at Florida because of what Coach Spurrier did and where the bar is set now.
"It's our job as a staff and a team to continue the same thing. We feel we have to prove ourselves. We're going to continue to be a wide open offense and score a lot of points. We feel we have the weapons that can make that happen."
Wins, of course, will be more important than offensive stats. Under Spurrier, the Gators averaged 10 wins a season, so expectations are beyond high.
"Our players know the expectations at the University of Florida," Zook said. "They know they're expected to win. To me, that's a positive.
"Rex Grossman came back because he felt we had a chance to be a very good football team. We're going to take this thing as far as we possibly can."
Zook is fired up. So are his players.
"Coach Zook has our team fired up," Grossman said. "The receivers and running backs and linemen have all been out there this summer on their own working out five times as hard as we ever worked before. He's got us motivated to do everything we can to have a good year. We're excited."
You can reach Robbie Andreu by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling 374-5022.
GATORS on Page 6C
Continued from 1C
AT A GLANCE
GATORS: Move past Spurrier
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