It's no secret that Mergz and I "met" online (we've actually never met) at the fireronzook.com message board which has evolved into Zook Free Zone (IMO, one of the best Gator forums out there). A lot of people might be wondering why we just don't let it go already with Zook. The fact is that the Ron Zook hiring never made any sense and it was an unequivocal disaster for a team that was establishing a new tradition of winning at a high level. What bothered a lot of us vocal Zook detractors was the myth that was built up about Zook. Some elements to the myth are:
1. Spurrier left the cupboard bare
2. Zook works harder than most coaches
3. Zook is a master recruiter
4. Zook didn't have enough time
5. Zook left the cupboard full
6. Urban Meyer is winning thanks to Zook
As you can see the myth extends into the present day and that's why I wanted to bring your attention to this column by Marty Cohen, the publisher of Gatorbait.net. It's worth reading the whole thing but I'll excerpt some of the juicier parts here:
Was Zook an Ace Recruiter?
...Zook's persona is that of the good guy who works hard and is a terrific recruiter. The first part doesn't matter, the second part should be a given and the third part is perhaps more myth than fact...
This is a team top-heavy with contributing seniors, but that's the way it is supposed to be – wasn't Steve Spurrier's first SEC championship team in '91 loaded with fifth-year seniors from Galen Hall's superb 1987 signing class? Of course, that's the way college football works.
But I have maintained all along that Zook's recruiting has been a case of style over substance, a caste-system of five-star upper class guys and a bunch of low-level guys who rarely panned out, with no middle class. It is that middle class which gives a program consistency and reliability, the five-year guys who provide depth as youngsters and become valuable contributors as juniors and seniors.
Frankly, there hasn't been nearly enough of those guys in Zook's recruitment. Again, it's why Florida's depth situation is so dire, why this is a club loaded with seniors, and freshmen (true and redshirt, Meyer's guys), with virtually no junior and sophomore classes. It's why there is no upper-class depth at quarterback, offensive line, linebacker and in the secondary, and why the two-year search still continues for a decent, reliable running back.
Let's take a look at Zook's three recruiting classes, and you decide about his recruiting wizardry. Granted, the first year in 2002 was a hastily-assembled bunch, having less than a month to put a class together when Spurrier abruptly left. In hindsight, it turned out to be a pretty decent group...
There were only six washouts who never did anything at UF and most were prime contributors, with a few stars (Baker, who was technically a Spurrier recruit, Crowder, Fason and McDonald) and a lot of solid contributors (Cornelius, Crum, Dickey, Hand, Harris, Holmes, Lewis, T. McCollum and Wynn).
The 2003 class was supposed to Zook's shining achievement as a recruiter, a Top 2 or 3 class that he hung his hat on forever. There is no doubt this class has some stars, but there were simply too many guys who contributed little to nothing, including the ill-fated junior college venture, essentially wasting a half-dozen scholarships (save one year from offensive tackle Tavares Washington)...
Again, this was the quintessential no middle-class group, with a lot of star power (Caldwell, Cohen, Everett, Jackson, Leak, Moss, M. Thomas, Webb and Wilbur), way too many washouts (Dingle, Griffin, Guerrero, M. Hill, Holcombe, Kenner, Lingard, Midgett, Morant, Riley, J. Thomas and Thornton) and only a handful of middle-ground guys (R. Hill, McMillan, Medder, Rissler and I guess, Washington). If you're truly going to judge a recruiting class three or four years down the road, then personally, this one gets downgraded from its lofty perch – half the class did absolutely nothing at UF.
Just completing year number three, Zook's final UF recruiting class in 2004 hasn't packed much of a punch. This is where the depth is supposed to come from, a large number of players either starting or pushing for starting jobs. While it's too early to cast aside some players who are still at UF, there have been few potential stars produced and again, way too many players no longer with the program...
Nearly half this class was gone by year three and it was not all a result of a coaching change – Brown, Daniel, Grace, Guthrie, Mangold, McIntosh, McPhearson, Nicholas and of course, Mincey and Thompson who were junior college signees. That's way too much attrition. There are some definite stars – Siler and Miller – some main contributors who've earned starting spots – Casey, Joiner, Tartt and Trautwein – some guys with big upsides – Harvey, Ingram – and five others who've played a role the last two years (Estopinan, Jackson, Manson, Rutledge and Watkins).
There it is, you guys decide about Zook's recruiting. Personally, I wouldn't say it was all that great. It was solid, and did produce a number of stars in one class. But once again, there is a reason why Meyer has been decrying the lack of depth at just about every position, why there is no consistent big-time veteran running back on campus and why so many freshmen (probably a dozen by the time the medical redshirts are used) had to play this year.