Zooker under the gun


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.

Oh, well.

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.


  1. I am glad Jeremy Foley fixed the mistake of hiring Ron Zook that soon. Those 3 years with Zook were so painful it is hard to imagine how the Florida Football Program would be like had Foley stuck with Ron Zook any longer. Personally, I really like Ron Zook. He seems like a nice guy and all, great recruiter, good speaker, but an average coach. I bet Steve Spurrier (who’s a helluva coach) would have Illinois spanking Michagan and Ohio St yearly, but Illinois is too cold for a beach golfer as Steve Spurrier is.
    But no better coach in UF history as our current coach Urban Meyer. He really knows how to coach and make those kids feel they are family and play with a sense of pride and love for our school. We are also very furtunate to have leaders on the field as Tebow and Spikes. They are the key for these last 4 years of success at our school.
    GO GATORS!!!

  2. Having played at Illinois in the early 60s with Dick Butkus and company when the team was good, I am sure that the Chicago Area Alumni are aggravated. Most of the folks up there are cold, unfriendly and arrogant; therefore, they must really be perturbed with Ron Zook. As for me, I could not care less, my roots have been with UF for many years through my wife and our kids who are UF Grads, and they can have the snow and Zook.

  3. Ron Zook is a great guy. I think we all agree with that. Some may even say Ron Zook is a good recruiter. But the one thing we have to also agree on is, Ron Zook is NOT a winner. Period.

    You hear it all the time, “It’s about the W”. Do you care that he had the best recruiting class, but the team went 6-7? Do you care that he was on the bedside of a collegue during their hard times, but failed to make it to a bowl game? Do you care that you attended a great person consortium with Zook as a guest motivational speaker, but then the team tanks to the cellar of their league?

    Of course not. A head coach’s job is to coach his/her team on how to win NOW. Not next year, or the year after that. And unfortunately for Ron Zook, Dave Weinstadt, Lane Kiffin and the plethora of average coaches that don’t know how to win; I hate to sound like a prick, but, get another job or tell them your daddy will help you if they hire you”.

    Urban puts it succinctly, “To be a champion, you have to be willing to work harder than the next guy, be more disciplined, AND possess the will to win.” It is a rare coach indeed that can teach this truism consistantly.

    Only Illinois knows how long they can tolerate not winning. One thing is for sure…they have the right guy for that. With all due respect. I’m just keeping it real. I hate when people say that. Peace.

  4. Interesting that the radio station in Chicago would “dig up” Zook’s past. Clearly the pattern of getting talent, winning a “fairly” big game now and then and subsequently running the team aground is again evident. My take…… Zook is an adequate assistant/position coach…not good enough on game day and not articulate to lead a big program.

  5. How about all that Zook rebuttal of Urban Meyer’s cricism of the Zook era at UF? Zook responded from the high ground of a successful program on the rise. What would he have to say today & from what perspective? From the bottom of the Little Eleven maybe???? See ye Ron….

  6. Too bad, because the Zooker is a really great guy. Great recruiter and a pretty decent D co-ordinator though not SEC material. I remember when he coached special teams and they were very good, kind of like they are now under Urban. But make NO mistake, it doesn’t get any better than Urban Meyer and we are damn lucky to have him. We may not always win the championship or the SEC, but Urban will always have us in the hunt.

  7. I think Robbie showed a lot of insight with his answers.He would probably be a better head coach than Zook since he knows that Zook wouldn’t delegate authority. Zook has been in over his head since day one here and God only knows how he managed to take the Illini to the Rose Bowl.Was he sick that year?

  8. Mike,

    Really? The people “up there” are cold, unfriendly, and arrogant? Sheesh. I am from “up there” and people have told me the Chicagoans are very friendly and warm. I have lived in Gainesville since 1997 and bleed orange and blue but will defend my roots to the core.

    I was sad that my second favorite team (the Illini) hired Zook and predicted these events to my Illini friends. I don’t take pleasure in being right.

  9. I’ve always thought a lot of Zook personally, felt sorry for what he endured in scorn from his first minutes as our coach at UF. He went through some tough time personally while Gator coach, losing his Dad, then his mother.
    His outcome was perhaps inevitable, as well, with Florida, trying to succeed Steve Spurrier. Ron’s a great recruiter, not a great coach. But the next guy after a legend often becomes an unofficial “interim” coach and had Zook not come our way we never would have gotten Urban. And who among us would want any other coach than Urban now?

  10. I have had seats at Florida Field since mid 70s and seen a lot of coaches. Zook most definatly was not or is not head coaching material.He wasted his ability to recruit by never developing players once he got them. The one thing I immensly disliked was his weird rules at practice’s such as not allowing fans to sit which was practicing aegism and being cruel to fans with handicaps (no chairs allowed). Thank God for Meyer!

  11. So agree. Gators played “tight” w/ Zook but also allow big cushion in 2nd 1/2 of games which allows comeback wins. Usually won 1st 1/2 and lost 2nd. Also, very poor 3rd down team on both sides of ball. Zook’s teams seemed to be surprised at every trick play and rarely was successful w/ our own trick plays. He was a good guy who was NOT ready to be a head coach at an SEC or a Big 10 program.

  12. I personally know Ron Zook. He is a hard worker, recruiter, and basicly a good motivator. I wont go into the gory details of his tenure here at FLORIDA as I dont like to kick a man when hes down. I am in the engineering field (or was),and as long as I have watched our GATORS, ( starting in 1949) , I have had a first hand look at all of the coaches from my same seat for 46 years.Most of you at Gator Nation, those that arent or were coaches at the high school or college level, are good students of saturday football and monday critiques. Things generally are not all bad, BUT, most professionl business HAVE TO HAVE BRIGHT AND SUPPORTIVE underlings who should , without a doubt, accomplish there mission, without question, in order that the company succeeds OR YOU WILL GO DOWN THE TUBES. I have been there , done that. And untill you get the workers (or COACHES in this case) accomplishing there piece of the overall puzzell,so that the system becomes successfull, ( AND WINS THE GAME!).IE, You can like the assistant coaches as much as you like , but you must be prepared to DUMP them ASAP, This is what RON ZOOK HAS TO DO. THEY must go or HE willsoon go. This is a fact.I dont mean to come on like this, but I only write very occationally, and I hope that I was able to add something of interest to this thread. Thank you, guys, This group or writers are super. Sincerely, POULOS .