Monday, July 30, 2007

The Gator nation comes out of hibernation

I don't think Gators hibernate, but I've been away from the blog for far too long. I just find it hard to be inspired by spring football and recruiting. I like the games.

But there's nothing like a few Zookisms to get one's blood flowing (and boiling). From Champaign (should be re-named Kool-Aid) Illinois, we get another puff piece about former Gator and current Illini head coach Ron Zook. Headline: Zook thinking big at Illinois.

The author of this latest piece of Ron Zookery (to be used from now on instead of tom foolery) is AP reporter David Mercer. Let the fisking begin:

Since Zook arrived in Champaign in 2005, the Illini have, as Zook promised they would, improved just a little each year. A two-win season with a lot of blowouts gave way to a two-win season with a lot of narrow losses.
Ah yes, the moral victories. Never mind that the previous Illini head coach, Ron Turner posted 4 wins the season he got fired.
But on this late-July afternoon Zook isn't talking about little steps. Leaning far forward in a lounge chair not more than 50 yards from the Memorial Stadium turf -- scene of a lot of Illini infamy -- Zook is talking big. Sort of.

"You know the first time Florida won the Southeastern Conference?" he asks a visitor. "1991. I was there. It ain't been very long, 16 years."

If it can happen there, he almost says but doesn't, why not here?
Well, yes and no. As we have documented here, the Gators had some very good years in the early 80s including an SEC title that was vacated. Florida was an up and coming school in a state loaded with talent. Of course, here Zook's point is two-fold: that he was an important part of Florida's success (not just recently) but for as long as Florida has been good and that he can replicate that success at Illinoise.
Since 1991, the Gators have won 157 games, lost 42 and appeared in bowl games every year. The Illini?
Yes, 42 losses since 1991 and do you know who the head man was for a full third of those losses in only 3 seasons as coach? Take one good guess. Hint: His is initials are R.Z.
"By the end of the year last year, for the most part we felt like we could win," he says. "Now for us to take the next step, we gotta go win."
Ron Zook, a master at overstating the obvious.
He'll quickly find out just what he's building on. The Illini open the season Sept. 1 in St. Louis against Missouri, considered a favorite to win the Big 12 North.

Zook isn't guaranteeing a win, only that his team won't get blown out.

"I promise you, we'll come out of that game feeling like we can compete against them, and we'll learn from it," Zook says.
Way to set high expectations there Ron. You kept telling us the Gators were improving, and the fact is that nothing improved until you were ejected from Gator airways with your golden parachute.
But the Illini face plenty of questions, and their schedule stays tough, particularly during late September and October, when they play Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan on consecutive weekends. All but the Iowa game are at home. And in November, the Illini travel to Ohio State.
As a long-time observer of Zook-coached teams, I can virtually assure that the Illini will win one of these seemingly impossible teams, probably after a player's only meeting, and lose to some doormat that even lowly Illinois should beat. How can I be so sure? Because the best indicator of future performance is past performance and I've seen this movie before.
And just a couple of weeks ago, defensive coordinator Vince Okruch left the team, at least temporarily, for unspecified personal reasons.

Zook says nothing will change with Okruch out. The assistants he promoted to co-coordinators -- Dan Disch and Curt Mallory -- know the system, he says.

After saying days ago that he was considering adding a "guest coach" to the staff, Zook on Friday hired former Florida assistant Mike Woodford.
Since Zook has been in Champaign the revolving door of assistant coaches has been dizzying. Some never even finalized their contracts with Illinois before they defected, trying to avoid being tainted by his Zookiness.
This is, after all, someone whose first head coaching job at Florida, where he followed Steve Spurrier, ended after three eight-win seasons -- not to mention the first Web site dedicated to a coach's demise,

Zook jokes that the Web site is his legacy to college football.

And Florida, as Zook said Spurrier promised him it would, was an education.
The obligatory mention of the 8-win seasons (which was mediocre considering the streak of success the article's author begins with at the top) and FRZ. Well you want to know something? FRZ was right. Nobody in the history of mankind was more right than FRZ. Send hatemail here. Ron, my dear boy, something is only an education if you learn something. You have, to date, not shown an ability to learn anything. Last season you once again chose to go for 2 points at the wrong time, and insisted on a trick play (rugby punt) even after it had backfired on you several times.

If Zook had any doubts that people were watching him like they'd never watched him before they soon disappeared. When, for example, Zook was sluggish during his morning jog, he says that within hours fans would write on any one of a variety of Web sites dedicated to Gator football that he looked off his game.

"I mean, you talk about scrutiny," he said.
I can honestly tell you Gator fans could care less if Galen Hall could beat Zook in a footrace, what they wanted was a man with a plan (and a clue).
The four wins and 19 losses he's put on the board so far at Illinois don't yet have Illini fans calling for Zook's head. In fact, they've bought 34,000 season tickets for 2007, 11,000 more that they bought last season.
It looks like this is a match made in heaven. A school with notoriously low expectations and a coach who is fantastic at meeting them.
"Any (bowl) game, no matter how unglamorous it's going to look to a Michigan fan, is going to appease (Illinois') fandom," [Tom Dienhart] said in an interview.
The only problem is that Illinois isn't going to come close to winning 6 games this season. I expect that 6 wins will be the most Zook ever gets in a season at Illinois. Two more than the aforemention Ron Turner got in his last year.
Illinois Athletic Director Ron Guenther said that this season Zook needs to "convert some of those Ls into Ws." But the AD added that Zook's progress has been good enough so far to lead him to consider extending the coach's five-year contract.

"If everything's going the way it's going, we're gonna' extend the relationship," Guenther said.
Observation: Two many Rons at Illinois.

Observation: Zook's contract was extended at Florida...

a few months before he got canned.


Gator Duck said...

Henry, absolutely brilliant commentary!

[blockquote][i]"You know the first time Florida won the Southeastern Conference?" he asks a visitor. "1991. I was there. It ain't been very long, 16 years."

If it can happen there, he almost says but doesn't, why not here?[/i][/blockquote]

So, the Zooker wants to move the Illinoisers into the SEC. Come on down, we'd love to have ya for dinner.

Also, if it wasn't for the zooker, we wouldn't have all those nice substitute words, such as mother-zooker, zookhead, etc.

JJ Gator said...

Dammit Henry, how did I miss this one? If I didn't click on a link that said "Ron Zook" I would have.

As usual you were right-on. I'm just glad that in the end Foley realized the HUGE mistake he made and canned this blithering idiot.

Good point about the "revolving door" at Illinoise; if only Zook would change his ways and stop micromanaging his staff he wouldn't have to deal with all the attrition. In his first year Fedora, Wickline, Marvin and Hiestand bailed on him, and eventually Zaunbrecher bolted for Purdue. He came to Gainesville and begged for Lox to go up to Champaign knowing he was in dire straits.

Yes, Mr Walsh (aka Baghead) was right all along; to the chagrin of the Zookites FRZ read the handwriting on the wall right from the get-go. I still find myself reading and re-reading the editorials and sermons from time to time; it sucks that we went from a team that made two back-to-back BCS bowl appearances to one that couldn't even win the zookin' Outback Bowl! (Yes, I find myself using "zook" as a euphemism from time to time when I need to disguise a cuss word!)

Ron Guenther at Illinois is crazy to extend Zook's contract given the win-loss record over two seasons; if it's mediocrity he wants it's mediocrity he'll get. Until they can hire a coach who can recruit, develop player talent and be prepared for a 12-game season all in one they'll never get anywhere in the Big Ten.

Good luck if he can win his Big Ten schedule; hell, even lowly Northwestern beat the Fighting Zooks once.

I'm glad Mizzou won that first game. Never mind "coming out of that game feeling like you can compete against them and learning from it" - play to WIN, you wuss!

But then again "it is correctable, and we're getting better and better"...that line ought to be engraved as an epitaph on his gravestone since it's so trite.

I'm glad that moRon was run out of The Swamp. Thank God we have Urban Meyer, the swagger's back and we're seeing REAL Florida Gator football once again!

But then again,