Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Is The Zooker Setting Himself Up For Failure?

Ron Zook shows off the legs that recruits just can't turn down.

Illinois is in good position to land three of the nation's top football prospects within the next 10 days, a Christmas present that would give coach Ron Zook one of the top 20 recruiting classes in the country. -- Chicago Sun-Times

Ron Zook. Chased out of Gainesville by an angry mob of backwoods Gator fans (trust me, I lived in Gainesville for a year...the University of Florida might be there, but THAT place is NOT Florida...south Alabama, maybe...) wielding torches and pitchforks. Somehow, he quickly found refuge in the Midwest at a program with pretty low expectations. A perfect fit! He is JUST the man for the job.

Despite Zook's shortcomings in clock management, offensive game planning, offensive play calling, organizational control, hiring of high quality assistants, teaching fundamental football skills, winning over the good will of alumni and booster and etc...etc...etc...One thing, and maybe the only thing, Zook does as well as any top coach (caveat: the term "top coach" is used as a point of reference and should in no way be construed as characterising Ron Zook) is recruiting. Somehow Zooker is able to bamboozle young minds and their parents into signing on the dotted line and entering a pact for a minimum of 3 and maximum of 5 years of frustration, shattered hopes and broken dreams.

Despite the mediocre (by UF standard) results, he always had gangbuster recruiting classes. Clearly, this was a huge mistake. And, Zook doesn't seem to be learning from it at Illinois.

By bringing in high profile recruits and having highly ranked classes, Zook essentially tied the knot in the hangman's noose. Zook is a mediocre coach. He surrounded himself with mediocre assistants. By bringing in top ranked classes, he raised expectations to levels that he couldn't reach.

Now, given the reins at Illinois, a guy like Zook is in the perfect job. Losing tradition. Low expectations. Mediocrity would be a step up and he would be a hero of sorts. But, instead of allowing his borderline coaching skills to be the focus of the program; that dadgum ability to recruit rears its ugly head. His plan should be simple:

-surround himself with a solid cast of assistants
-recruit tough players that are under the national radar
-hold press conferences and give pep talks while you let those solid assistants teach the kids how to play
-go 5-7 or 6-6 and be able to claim that the team is performing above expectations
-retain job

But, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Zook goes out and brings in some top players. The media of course touts this as big news. And now, you are going to have alums and fans of Illinois expecting big things. A few top 20 recruiting classes in a row should equate to some 20 rankings, right? And those are expectations that Coach Ron Zook will just not be able to meet.

Ron, if you are going to be a marginal X's and O's coach and INSIST on bringing in great recruiting classes: Follow the example Mack Brown has set. Mack began it at UNC and perfected it at Texas. Be the chairman of the board: Raise money and make the recruiting trips to talk ma and pa into letting junior play for you. Leave the football operations and coaching to guys that know how.

We predict this class is the beginning of the end of the Ron Zook era at Illinois.


At 2:18 PM, Blogger Purdue Matt said...

Ever heard of Dick Butkus or Red Grange? Illinois doesn't have a losing tradition. That would be the Indiana Hoosiers.

At 3:28 PM, Anonymous gregory said...

As a suffering Illini fan (thank God I'm a senior and don't have to pretend the football team is going anywhere)I have to agree with your sentiments 100%. Talent is one thing but if that talent can't be coached or hell even be given a decent play to succeed then it doesn't even matter. Fire Zook!

At 4:09 PM, Anonymous sb said...

I take umbrage to your comments about Gainesville not being Florida...it is, in fact, the real Florida, while the metropolitan areas you allude to (i.e. beaches, high rise condominiums, the usual mid-western "Florida Ideal", are just that...mid-western, with a large, regional smattering of north east, and Cuba), are solely reserved to the immigrant population (i.e. non-Floridian).

Despite the Gainesville pejorative, I agree whole-heartedly with your characterization of zooker and the double-edged sword on which he is destined to fall. One rises to the level of their incompetence and zooker has been able to do that twice and makes a very good living at it. In fact his on-field underacheivement may result in a new career niche. Zooker recruits a high caliber team, coaches it poorly during the three-year run up to a new coach. Viola...a ready made team just waiting to dominate! If you're an AD, what better way to gear up for football excellence than to hire a designated recruiter/coach who will lower general expectations while creating a talent filled behemoth enabling you to attract a real coaching talent ready to take you to the top!
Go Gators!

At 4:20 PM, Blogger ojarhead said...

"Ever heard of Dick Butkus or Red Grange? "

Sure have. Those guys were great. But does having a few legendary players and a few good years = a winning tradition?

They have had 30 losing seasons in the past 50 years. I dunno...to me that is a losing tradition :)

At 4:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I take umbrage to your comments about Gainesville not being Florida"

gainesville is a redneck, backwater town that should be part of Alabama.

At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am from central Illinois, but have lived in Gainesville for 20 years... I know redneck, backwater towns.

Champaign, probably because any culture is sucked North to Chicago, is much more of a redneck, backwater town.

Rednecks from Alabama, which is nowhere near Gainesville, or southern Georgia, which is closer, would be offended that a city with a diverse culture, like Gainesville, would be lumped with them.

Which school/alumni should be concerned. Florida, who hired Zook (a terrible coach with no head coaching record)...but had the sense to fire him) or Illinois, who hired Zook (a terrible coach with a bad track record).

At 4:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good luck with the Zooker.

Wish I could write more, but I have to pack my bags for Glendale, AZ.

Go Gators!

At 5:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"a city with a diverse culture, like Gainesville"

HAHAHAHA...diverse culture? Wow, you definately are from hicksville if you find Gainesville to have a diverse culture. Holy Shit! That place is a cultural whole in space. It's a typical redneck southern town. Whites on one side, blacks on the other and never the two shall meet. Culture? HAHAHA the hippodrome or whatever it is called is a mecca of culture isn't it? I can't stop laughing. Do you wear shoes? Do you drive a tractor to work? Gainesville having a diverse culture. Now that is the funniest thing I have heard all day. Living there for 20 years has clearly had a wonderful effect on you.

At 5:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I suppose when Money magazine named Gainesville the best place in the entire country to live they were delusional.

At 5:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zook is exactly what Illinois needs right now. They don't need a coach, they need a recruiter. They need talent. The best coach in the world can't take a lump of crap and turn it into gold, but if you start out with gold, even the worst coach in the world can't make it into crap.

At 5:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Yes, I suppose when Money magazine named Gainesville the best place in the entire country to live they were delusional. "

or YOU are delusional. Here's there list. No Gainesville. Nice try tho.


At 6:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"but if you start out with gold, even the worst coach in the world can't make it into crap."

Give him time, don't underestimate the incredible votex of suck that Zook creates.

At 7:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"but if you start out with gold, even the worst coach in the world can't make it into crap."

ever heard of Larry Coker?

At 4:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dumb post.

Zook never got to coach his players at Florida. He got stuck with Spurrier's leftovers. There were many reasons he left.

All but 3 of Florida's starters for the NC game are Zook recruits.

Give him 3 years with his talent and see what he can do. It is too early.

At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Zook never got to coach his players at Florida. He got stuck with Spurrier's leftovers. There were many reasons he left."

Yea, that Spurrier sure was a shitty recruiter. LOL. And, no, there was ONE reason Zook left. He was FIRED.


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