The heat is building in a hurry around Ron Zook, the former Florida coach who is now the head coach at Illinois.
A Chicago radio station had me on the air for about 20 minutes on Tuesday talking about Zook. Based on what they were saying (and asking), there is a growing sentiment in Illinois to dump Zook. The Illini is losing (off to a 1-4 start overall, 0-3 in the Big Ten) and the fans are grumbling about Zook’s coaching (and some of his comments) and the direction of the program. The radio guys were asking me about the possibility of Charlie Strong being a replacement should Zook get fired. My comment was that Strong is going to make a great head coach one day, maybe very soon, especially with what he’s doing with this Florida defense, but I don’t know about Illinois.
Anyhow, basically what I told the folks in Chicago is that Zook is a really good guy, a good coach (if not a head coach), and a guy who can recruit and rally support. He showed all that early on at Illinois. But since taking the Illini to the Rose Bowl two years ago, the program has taken a nose dive. The 2009 team has not been at all competitive in the Big Ten. He’s in his fifth year and he has some talent, so you have to start questioning Zook’s ability to develop players and get the most out of them.
This is kind of the way it went down for Zook at Florida. Despite great recruiting, Zook’s UF teams seemed to regress over time rather than get better.
I told the Chicago radio guys that the one thing that stood out to me about Zook when he was here was that he seemed to coach tight too often, and his players played like it. Conversely, when the pressure was off, he seemed to relax and his teams would play much better and win some big games, like at LSU in 2003 and at Florida State in 2004 in his last game. Zook also had a tendency to be too hands-on as head coach. He would micromanage rather delegate authority to his coordinators and assistants. I know Strong grew frustrated over this when he was Zook’s defensive coordinator at Florida. Strong had to run Zook’s defense, not his own. Now that we see what Strong’s defense is all about, what a mistake by Zook.
The radio guys up there asked me if I thought Zook should be fired. I told them no, give him a little more time. But, by the sound of things, he’s not going to get too much time.