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
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.