Reality television show focuses on Zook's Fighting Illini
Published: Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 27, 2008 at 12:30 a.m.
CHICAGO — Ron Zook’s knowledge of reality TV begins and ends with film study, a dissection of X’s and O’s.
Mention ‘‘Big Brother,’’ and he will assume you’re talking about his older sibling, Bob.
But the former Gator head coach is prepared to go in front of the cameras with his coaches and players for a Big Ten Network series called ‘‘The Journey.’’
BTN officials announced Thursday the Illini will be featured in season two. Minnesota and its first-year basketball coach, Tubby Smith, were the series’ guinea pigs.
‘‘I talked with Tubby and he was impressed with their professionalism,’’ Zook said. ‘‘He had the same fears in the beginning as I do.’’
Chief among those fears?
‘‘This will be like having someone in your bedroom,’’ Zook said.
The BTN also looked into Purdue, where coach Joe Tiller is to pass the baton to Danny Hope, and Michigan, which has been a daily soap opera since Rich Rodriguez left behind bitter West Virginia fans.
Rodriguez, whose tenure already has sparked controversies over uniform numbers and a transfer (lineman Justin Boren) to Ohio State, opted to keep the cameras away.
The first installment of ‘‘Illinois Football: The Journey’’ will air Sept. 2 and last an hour. The series is slated for 10 to 13 episodes, most 30 minutes long.
BTN executive producer Leon Schweir expects Illinois, following its surprising Rose Bowl run, will be compelling TV.
Quarterback Juice Williams will have to hold off Eddie McGee to remain the starter, receiver Arrelious ‘‘Rejus’’ Benn has Heisman Trophy potential and there’s no guarantee the team will remain in the Big Ten’s upper echelon.
‘‘(Zook) will tell you: ‘Nothing is assured this year,’ ” Schweir said. ‘‘A couple of twists and turns, and you could be .500.’’
Schweir said it took ‘‘a couple of visits’’ to convince Zook to sign on. He reminded the fourth-year coach that there is a ‘‘risk factor’’ in agreeing to give a camera crew nearly unlimited access.
‘‘If you have a (prominent) player who’s no longer a starter, we will follow that,’’ Schweir said. ‘‘Things don’t always tie up in a neat bow when you’re doing this.’’
Zook said he saw two main pluses: 1) It will give Illini fans an unprecedented look at the team; 2) It will be good exposure for recruiting.
Maybe the order should be reversed.
Zook said he also received the green light from his daughter, Jacquelyn, an actress who lives in Los Angeles.
‘‘She was all for it,’’ her dad said.
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