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.

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Ron Zook Fired! Illini A.D. Addresses Media (Video)

illinois-celebration

You look at the pic above and think “what does a celebration from the Illinois Fighting Illini 2004-05 college basketball season have to do with this?” The long overdue firing of the school’s college football coach Ron Zook.

Well, when I searched for google images of “Illini celebration,” it was all hoops images. (which says something about why the Zooker is being jettisoned. And, I needed an orange and blue celebration pic for a news like this.

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Which Illini Coordinator Gets Ron Zook’s (Interim) Job?

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In 2009, a very underachieving Illini football team finished 3-9. Picked as high as third by some Big Ten and college football pundits, the horrible record was nothing short of a catastrophe for the resume of Ron Zook and the Illinois program.

Or so I thought.

Logic dictated then Illinois Athletic Director Ron Guenther can Zook then and there. Unfortunately, Guenther had FOOLISHLY given Zook a big, expensive contract extension before that season, and buying him out would have been just about financially impossible.

So what did Guenther/Illinois do? They doubled down on a losing hand. Sort of.

They brought in two flashy, expensive coordinators to take as much responsibility off of Zook’s plate as possible. Vic Koenning for the defense, Paul Petrino for the offense.

So which one gets the gig now?

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5 Biggest Reasons Illinois Should Fire Ron Zook Next Sunday

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The main story surrounding the Illinois Fighting Illini losing 28-17 to the Wisconsin Badgers today is the fact that Illini Head Coach Ron Zook is a “dead man walking.”

New Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas said he won’t make a decision until after the season is over, so I wouldn’t expect to hear anything concrete until after the season’s final game- next Saturday at the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Sure, there might be a bowl game, but the axe could fall on Zook’s head a week from Sunday.

The Illini blew a 10-point second half lead to Wisconsin, as the Badgers had TD drives of 2, 30, 44, and 39 yards. No, that’s not a typo, it’s an indication of how POOR the Illini special teams are. And how their offense keeps turning it over, but that’s another story for another time.

For now, I’ll list (in no particular order) the top 5 fireable qualities in Ron Zook WITHOUT mentioning his 34-50, 18-37 in the Big Ten record while at Illinois. That’s obviously reason #1; the W-L record speaks for itself.

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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.

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Why the Illini Will Win More Games than Notre Dame

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You’re like, “ok Captain Obvious.”

Not so fast my friend, I was saying this in August too. I thought my local media friends would find that assertion crazy given all the BCS preseason hype Notre Dame was getting, and the fact that Illinois was getting zero votes in either poll.

But the truth is Notre Dame is 2-2, and very mediocre, while the Illini are this year’s Michigan State- a team that will finish with a much better record than they deserve. Like the ’10 Spartans, Illinois’ schedule sets up perfectly for a very fast start and a sweet record.

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Questioning Ron Zook’s Very Questionable Play-Calls, Rationale

erin andrews and ron zook

Fans of the Florida Gators will understand this piece.

Actually non college football fans will probably understand it even.

It feels like we publish this column every season. Last year, we did the “Did Ron Zook’s play-calling cost Illinois a win?” story after the Illini had a chance to upset then #2 Ohio State at home in the Big Ten conference opener. Go here to brush up on that.

And then there’s the 2006 loss to the Indiana Hoosiers, in which Zook inexplicably went for 2-pt conversions not once, but twice (both attempts failed) with the game tied early in the second quarter of what ended up being a 1-pt loss. The Zooker told the media afterward that the decisions didn’t matter.

Even though it was a ONE point loss (32-31), but yeah…

..the Zook terrible decision making season got started earlier in 2011. This time it happened in the pre-conference, and the questionable play-calls didn’t actually cost them a victory, as the Illini held on to beat Western Michigan 23-20.

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Mikel Leshoure to Rashard Mendenhall Comparisons Running Wild Now

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Given that they are/were both Illinois Fighting Illini, wore the same jersey number, played the same position, and didn’t break out until their junior year (and when they broke out, they really did it in style) it’s inevitable to compare current Illini tailback Mikel Leshoure to current Pittsbrugh Steelers star running back Rashard Mendenhall.

Heck, I wrote a column about it in October.

And after Leshoure’s huge, record-setting game in the Texas Bowl, more people are making the analogy. Leshoure was even asked the question Wednesday night, in the post-game press conference. Both are local products. Leshoure is from Champaign (Centenniel h.s.) and Mendenhall is from suburban Skokie (Niles West h.s.).

By Paul M. Banks

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Texas Bowl Sees Illinois and Baylor Break Numerous Records

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Last night’s college football match-up won38-14 by the Illinois Fighting Illini over Baylor broke a bunch of Texas Bowl, bowl history in the city of Houston, as well as Illinois and Baylor records. Seriously, there were a ton, but here are some of the most notable.

-The Illini tied the Texas Bowl record for most points scored 38 and most net yards gained at 533.

-Leshoure tied a Texas Bowl (and Houston Bowl game) record for most touchdowns with 3, rushed for a Texas Bowl record 187 yards.

-Scheelhaase set a Texas Bowl record for most consecutive passes completed at 13, completion percentage of 78.0. highest average gain per pass attempt (min. 20 attempts) at 13.4 yards. Both also highest in Houston bowl game history.

leshoure

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Scheelhaase, Illini Put Texas (Bowl) Sized Whooping on Baylor

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It was exactly like the first (and only) time Chicago and Houston met in a major postseason sporting event. Granted the stakes in the college football Texas Bowl were much lower than that of the 2005 MLB World Series between the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros; and Baylor University is about as geographically far from Houston as the University of Illinois is from Chicago.

But the results were as similarly lopsided as when the Sox swept the ‘Stros in the ’05 Fall Classic. Both times the stars at night, were big and bright, for the team opposing the heart of Texas.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, and his Illinois Fighting Illini teammates certainly looked like they benefited from the 15 extra practices that come from obtaining a bowl berth, as the Illini put up 533 yards of total offense and 38 points; breaking the school record set during the Champaign campaign of 2001.

By Paul M. Banks

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Ron Zook Delivers Jim Mora Style Mini-Rant (Video)

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Last week the Illini football team imploded and lost at home to the Minnesota Golden Gophers, one of the worst teams in recent Big Ten football history.

Words can’t really express a college football let-down of this proportion, although we tried to do so here.

Now a really promising 5-3 team that many pundits believed would finish 8-4 or even 9-3 doesn’t even look like a bowl team. Yes, they could very easily not get that critical sixth win to earn a postseason game and 15 extra practices.

A question from a reporter about the “b word” prompted Illini Head Coach Ron Zook to deliver this Jim Moraesque “PLAYOFFS???!!! YOU’RE TALKING PLAYOFFS?!” rant.

Thanks to The Last Angry Fan for the photo.

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Illinois Loses to Minnesota

So.

I suppose that headline really says it all, doesn’t it?

I mean…what more is there to say when a team that was 1-9, 0-6 in the Big Ten, and had lost to a 1-AA team, comes into your house and beats you.

Well, maybe there is one more thing to say:

We’re not going to a bowl game, folks. [Read more…]