Ron Zook Asked About Job Security; Walks Out of Media Session

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Sometimes I forget that Illini football coach Ron Zook means something different to me than he does to the rest of the nation. I regard him as the college football coach at my alma mater, the University of Illinois.

Sure, I take issue with a lot of his play-calling, and the way he defends his play-calling to the media (especially after the Western Michigan game, when his bad decision making and even worse, his rationale for those decisions, almost gave the Illini win away to an inferior MAC team), but I often forget that to much of America- his name is a punch-line.

Today, reminded me of that brutal truth; when Zook did something that is sure to be national news.

These tweets from Chicago Tribune Illini beat reporter Shannon Ryan (Twitter handle @sryantribune) tell the whole story:

sryantribune

#Illini HC Zook not happy I asked how he handles rumors about his job w/ team. Pointed, stared, and walked out-as said he would if asked.

That’s right. Zook got so upset when asked about his job security that he WALKED OUT of his weekly press conference. Hey, she was warned, as she tweeted this earlier:

sryantribune

#Illini Zook said if anyone asks about him personally, he’ll end the press conference.

To be fair, Ryan was only doing her job and asked the question in a very even-handed, football (and not business or administrative) manner. And she waited until 19 minutes into the press conference, after every game-related topic that reporters wanted to ask about or Zook wanted to talk about was answered before asking about how rumors of his job status might be a team distraction.

Yet Zook still went off the handle saying:

“You just couldn’t leave it alone, could you Shannon.”

(click here for video)

The Illini started out 6-0 and climbed to as high as #16 in the national rankings. Since then, they’ve lost four in a row, and haven’t even scored a touchdown in the first half of any of those four losses. That’s right, 8 quarters of first half football without even a point!

A couple of those four losses have looked really ugly (especially this past week at home versus Michigan, when the Wolverines beat Illinois by 17, in a game in which they were only favored by two), and the Illini have looked very ill-prepared in them.

In the other two games, it appeared like they didn’t even show up in the first half. They had a chance to deny Joe Paterno his record breaking 409th win, but instead gave the game to Penn St and JoePa, losing 10-7, mostly because of three critical special teams gaffes that gave the Nittany Lions 9 points.

To go from nationally ranked, to fighting for their bowl lives (they’re bowl eligible, but the Big Ten could easily set a record with ten eligible teams this year, and with only eight league tie-in slots to fill, eight are eligible already, so you do the math) is nothing short of a complete 2011 collapse. To see where I have Illinois and all the other Big Ten teams slotted in the bowls go here

All this, coupled with his 34-49, 18-36 in the Big Ten record during his Illini tenure might make you wonder why Zook still has a job. The answer?

His contract buyout is expensive and the state of Illinois is broke.

Or as Shannon re-tweeted, this nugget from St. Louis Post-Dispatch Illini beat writer Stu Durando:

studurando
A consideration for Illinois: Attorney who handles coaches’ contracts says Zook’s buyout would cost $2.815 million. #zook

UPDATE: according to Ryan and the Tribune: athletic director Mike Thomas said he has not made a decision about the seventh-year coach’s future. “I’ll assess the situation, the whole body of work, at the end of the season,” said Thomas, who left Cincinnati for Illinois in August. “That’s when we’ll assess where we are as a program.”

Is it worth $3 million to send Zook packing early? I bet Thomas’ predecessor Ron Guenther regrets giving Zook that contract extension now. It’s starting to look like the Illini version of the Chicago Cubs deal with Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Zambrano or the Chicago Bulls and Carlos Boozer.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, a Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports.

A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; he’s also a member of the FWAA, USBWA and SPJ. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.

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Comments

  1. Reporter’s for the most part are a bunch of loser’s who never played the game,but think they have all the answer’s.Zook said he would end the news conference if you asked him any personal questions.Of course saying that to some scum bag, bottom feeding reporter just egg’s them on and you know the question will be asked.

  2. she was only doing her job! watch the video, you’ll notice she asked a football related question, and asked about the issue as it relates to football.

    as for the rest of your comment, let’s say I disagree on all levels

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