So Where Does Ron Zook, a True Nice Guy, Go From Here?


ron zook

A funny thing happened on the way to Illinois cleansing and ridding itself of the Ron Zook era.

Honestly, as someone who has written numerous pieces for The Sports Bank about how much Zook needed to be fired over the years, I just didn’t see it coming.

I felt bad.

I really did.

(guest post from Paul Schmidt)

There’s a fundamental problem with dancing on the grave of any head coach, but in particular one like Zook, and it highlights the biggest problem with letting a coach like Zook go from a program like Illinois: I really liked him.

I thought Zook was, for the most part, very genuine. He was a little uneasy and defensive with the press mainly because of the treatment he received in Florida where he was constantly abused, and that’s ok.

He was a kind man who genuinely cared about his team- evidenced by the sheer number of players that showed up at his fnal press conference and lamented his loss on Twitter. In fact, Vic Koenning, Illinois’ interim head coach, has intimated that the Illini have a lot of healing and soul searching that they need to do before they can decide whether or not they even want to go to a bowl game without Zook. That, my friends, is a great, genuine relationship.

He was true to his family, and genuinely so, unlike someone like Urban Meyer. Zook’s family would regularly be in and around press conferences after games waiting to see him, and in his farewell statement Zook spoke lovingly of Champaign-Urbana, about how he and his family had made it their home and how welcomed they felt by our guarded, Midwestern sensibilities that tend to frown on outsiders.

Football is, above all else, a business and I’m well aware of that, and if at this point Coach Zook isn’t then he’s even less bright than I’ve ever given him credit for. Wins and losses are the bottom line in a business where recruiting and arranging personnel and making in-game decisions are the ingredients. Zook, so many times, was somewhat successful at the recruiting but just downright awful at the coaching part of it.

That is what led to his dismissal both here and at Florida, especially when you consider that Zook, like so many other college football coaches, are the highest paid employees in their states.

However, maybe there should be more to it than just that awful bottom line. At a time when coaches are dealing with ridiculous scandals, from players getting free tattoos from locals boosters and businessman to assistant coaches molesting boys and the university covering it up, maybe credit should be given for being a nice guy.

Maybe running a clean ship, being accountable for your actions and keeping your players (mostly) in line, or at least doling out appropriate punishment when they do get out of line, should count for much more than it does.

Maybe being a man that so many players, again on Twitter, said was a father-figure to them that I lost count should mean more to athletic departments and fan bases.

In the long run, the failures were many, but I’ll treasure the Ron Zook successes, too. I’ll never, ever forget upending #1 Ohio State in 2007. I’ll never forget the bowl win against Baylor last season when the Illini looked so great and the future looked so damn bright. The Wrigley game against Northwestern when Mikel Leshoure broke the school rushing record was simply the greatest event I’ve ever covered as a member of the press.

And I won’t ever forget that he took us to our first Rose Bowl in 24 years, something I wasn’t sure we would ever see again.

In the end, even though life is much more complicated than black and white, and college football very much is a business…

…that won’t stop me, much to my surprise, from silently pulling for Zook wherever he may land.

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