Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Canonization of Saint Ron the Martyr - UPDATED

I will never be able to understand the sports media's fascination and infatuation with Ron Zook. When Zook was struggling at Florida the fraternity of failed former coaches, chaired by Mike Gottfried, always came to his defense against those mean people that started before he had ever even coached a game. Then when Urban Meyer turned the Gators around and won a BCS title, the pundits were quick to remind everyone that Zook had recruited 22 of 24 the champion Gator starters. Funny, I don't remember such articles being written about John Cooper or Butch Davis when their successors hoisted the crystal football. Just another curious event in what I call the media's canonization of St. Ron the Martyr.

The latest hagiography comes from Joe Henderson at the Tampa Tribune:

He handled his departure at Florida with a measure of grace that spoke loudly about the quality of the man. What he has done at Illinois spoke just as loudly about his strength as a recruiter.
Really? I seem to remember him taking any jab at Florida that he could over the last two seasons while he was accumulating a 4-19 record at Illinois. Sure Florida fans treated him like garbage, that's what happens when a loser is hired to coach a team whose fans expect to win. But Florida also made Zook a wealthy man, wealthier probably than any of us ever will be and that includes you Mr. Joe Henderson.
The Illini are loaded with speed and playmakers. They are also ahead of schedule. Zook had told people privately during the summer that he didn't expect his team to make a real splash until next season.

Zook never got that kind of patience at Florida. He recruited many of the players who won the national championship last season, but even that just enhanced his reputation as someone who couldn't be trusted to wear the headset. He could recruit, sure. But could he actually coach?

No one is asking that now.
Let's take these one at a time. Zook has always been a master of setting low expectations and promising better tomorrows. He famously said "that's what we're going to look like in three years" as the Miami Hurricanes came out of the tunnel at the Swamp in Zook's first big game as a head coach in 2002. Apparently, in his mind, he had already conceded the game his team was about to play.

Now let's talk about patience. Zook is in his third year at Illinois and he has certainly turned the the team around. But the Gators took a few steps backward in Zook's first season at Florida and never moved forward in the two subsequent seasons. If they had, he wouldn't have been fired, plain and simple. The fact is that despite the claims of improvement, Zook's Gators never demonstrated it between the lines, losing to teams that were vastly inferior in terms of talent and having a knack at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

As far as questioning Zook's coaching ability, there are plenty of us who still do. Hell, even Illini fans do. Just take a look at the game threads on the Illini message boards. The biggest display of Zookian brain farts was against Iowa where Zook accepted 2 penalties which gave Iowa another chance at 3rd down. In both cases Iowa converted, scoring a TD and getting a first down. Illinois would be tied for 1st in the Big 10 if not for that gaffe. But let's get real for a second, the Big 10 is not the SEC. I think Florida pretty much exposed OSU last year when the Buckeyes were a "consensus number 1". This year the top pundits were rightfully much more skeptical of the top ranked Buckeyes. Even homer Herbstreit had to concede that Ohio State had not beaten anybody. Let's not forget that the other team ahead of Illinois in the Big 10 is Michigan which lost to D1AA Appalachian State.
This is Zook's team and Zook's time. It probably never would have been that way at Florida. Even if he had stayed, even if he had coached the Gators to a national title last season, was it ever going to be good enough? We'll never know.

What we do know is that a classy man has been embraced at last.
Nobody except Zook believes that he could have coached them to a BCS crown, except that he claims he would have done it in 2005. But let's take a look at Zook's alleged "classiness".

From USA Today (October 19, 2004):
It's one thing to have a 4-2 record, it's quite another when the head coach confronts students in an intimidating manner and tone, one based on supposed privilege. Fraternity members say Zook said his players had more to lose than they did. And, as the players dispersed, one of them boasted, "We own this town," according to fraternity member Ari Bargil, who first approached Zook.

"I thought maybe he was here to extend an olive branch, so I said, 'What's going on, coach?' " Bargil said. "He looks right at me and says, 'Why don't you tell me what the (expletive deleted) is going on?' Just like that. The entire mood changed. We realized that, not only is he not ending it, he's stirring up a whole new pot."

One brewing with yelling, vulgarities and, yes, a very specific threat as the crowd of players dispersed. "He said, 'I don't know if I can do it, but I'm going to do everything in my power to get this place shut down,' " Bargil said. "He repeated it like five or six times. At the time, we didn't know what kind of pull he has here. We're thinking he's the third most powerful person at the school — president, AD, football coach."
So I guess confronting a bunch of students in front of their house is considered classy by Joe Henderson.

And then there's the classy act of elbowing a player because he committed a dumb personal foul:

And the culmination of classy is how Zook pushed a cameraman out of the way after the aforementioned loss to Iowa:

Much is being made of the possibility of Florida playing Illinois in either the Outback Bowl or the Capital One Bowl. I'd like to see it. You see in order to become a full fledged saint you need to have two miracles credited to you. So far Zook has one at Illinois. I suspect that he doesn't have a second one in him. Zook is no saint. He's a false prophet and for the Gators he was the Antichrist.

The Chosen One vs. the Antichrist, I like the sound of that.

UPDATE: I almost forgot about one of Zook's classiest moments. A long ago incident called faxgate. For those who aren't familiar, make sure to read this article about the matter which occurred in 1991 when Zook was an assistant at Florida:
A fired assistant coach who claimed the Vols made him the scapegoat for recruiting violations, faxed hand-drawn diagrams of offensive plays to Zook, a former UT assistant and a good friend of Sell, days before the game between the undefeated teams.

Sells sent drawn diagrams of plays, formations, audibles and quarterback cadence calls on 24 sheets of paper from a Kinko's copy center near the UT campus. An employee noticed what was written on the pages, stopped the transmission after 15 pages had been sent, and phoned the Tennessee athletics department.
Ah yes, class indeed.

H/T: JJ Gator


Senator Blutarsky said...

Brother, I'm with you on this one.

Illinois' success this year says a lot more about the Big Ten than it does about the Zooker...

Anonymous said...

Is it so hard to understand? was one of the first major, successful internet campaigns to fire a coach. It was started even before Zook coached a game. Florida fans are an easy target here.

I think Florida fans were right, and their is plenty of evidence of that to this unbiased Buckeye, but being right isn't the most important thing in the court of public opinion.

You have to decide what's important. If it bothers you for Zook to be a martyr, and for Florida to be dogged when he happens to win a big game, then you should have given him the "fair" 5 years.

If you care more about winning football games, and even championships, then fire the coach when it is evident that he is not up to the job.

It seems you want everyone to pat you on the back, and extol the perception and high standards of Gator fans for firing a loser.

It isn't going to happen. You wanted a winner, you got a winner. If the world thinks you are a bunch of meanies, then . . . well maybe you are. I didn't think the effort to fire Zook was about a desire to be appreciated and understood.

Anonymous said...

I for one take Zook's achievements with a smile... we never never NEVER have to see him coaching again at Florida .

That makes me smile.

KG said...

I don't understand all the constant vitriol about this. I was more than happy to see Zook go but let us focus on NOW rather than THEN.

What Zook has done this year is impressive and if it were Charlie Strong (someone who has also taken a lot of criticism from Gator fans due to his conservative philosophy) doing this instead of Zook we'd be gushing over ourselves right now. Why the double standard? Because hate is hard to let go of.

Henry Gomez said...

Anon #1, bullshit.

Anon #2, I agree.

KG, when Zook stops with the snide comments and jabs I'll let it go. But until them fuck him and the horse he rode in on.

Anonymous said...

What? Just claim, BS? You are capable of better.

I think I'm on solid ground when I say that people call you unfair for firing a coach after three years.

I'm not saying it is unfair, but you are open to the charge, no matter how bad the coach.

If you are going to be upset at things written by pundits, then you have to play by the arbitrary rules of punditry. This is impossible. So ignore ignorant columns about Zook. And be happier.

Let me know where I'm wrong.

Anon #1

JJ Gator said...

Henry, you rock!

I figured after the Ohio State win by Illinois, the Zook apologist remnant in Gator Nation would get back up on their soapboxes and start spouting their ridiculous drivel ad nauseam. Trust me, reading Joe Henderson's article nearly drove me to the point of puking all over my computer had it not been for the Zantac I needed to take. Typical Zook-apologist sob story Henerson wrote.

Whether Joe likes it or not, the Zook firing was necessary to make sure our football program wouldn't be sent further down the wrong road. Zook burned some of his bridges behind him at UF and has nobody to blame bur himself for his demise.

FRZ actually cut Zook some slack at the beginning and gave him the benefit of a doubt, if the Zook apologists would have only bothered to read Baghead's essays. His, and some of us, had the right premonition about the Zook hire right off the bat, and we were right much to the Zookites' chagrin.

Anon #2, you don't fully understand the situation; it pisses me off when I read stuff from a rival fan who thinks he/she knows more about Florida football than Gators fans do themselves.

Zook didn't have complete control over this football program. If he did, "players-only" meetings called at the time because we were in dire straits and needed to right thw wrongs would never have taken place.

The reason Zook was fired was due to the fact that he couldn't fulfill the responsibilities of his position as he was being asked to perform. Player disciplinary problems had reached a critical level, the "Fratgate" incident was a bad reflection on UF as a whole as well as Zook, and morale was low. When things deteriorated that much, Machen and Foley had to act accordingly at that time for the sake of UF and as a "damage control" measure. ENOUGH WAS ENOUGH.

And as for the favorite excuse of the Zookites "He put all his heart into this program" - let me ask them about Jarvis Moss. Zook showed no compassion for this young man who had a medical condition that was jeoparizing his football by not doing a goddamn thing to help him. Urban Meyer was more compassionate, got Moss the treatment he needed, and Moss went on to become an integral part of the Gators' NC team of 2006. Meyer and Moss get the last laugh; Zook deserves a kick in the ass.

The topic keeps arising because the Zook apologists are either oblivious to what happened, are obstinate, or both. As soon as they decide to accept what happened this topic will die down.

Anonymous said...

"Anon #2, you don't fully understand the situation; it pisses me off when I read stuff from a rival fan who thinks he/she knows more about Florida football than Gators fans do themselves."

I think you mean Anon #1.

This is the heart of the issue. Outsiders will never fully understand the situation. So they will make judgments, often incorrectly, about how your program should have operated.

If you know firing Zook was right, then feel free to ignore all others. If editorials are going to bother you, then the problem is with you.

Please note, I have never claimed to understand the Zook situation other than to say that I think he should have been fired.

My entire point, which has been ignored, was firing in three years will always be viewed as unjustifiable, regardless of the reality.

It strikes me as odd that the defending champs and possessors of one of the top 5 coaches would be so sensitive to criticism over the past. It is particularly odd in a case where the criticism is unjustified.

Shrug it off, guys. I'm out.

Anon #1

Henry Gomez said...

Sorry anon,

I don't have to time debate how many years a coach should have. The Zook hire was a mistake. There was a reason FRZ was started before the man coached a game. It's because dude had a resume and it wasn't good. Losing to MSU back then is not like losing to MSU today. It was like losing to Notre Dame today. Totally unacceptable.

I honestly don't give crap what people think of Gator fans. They hate us anyway. Always have, even when we were terrible and even more since Spurrier.

But the media is so mindless and stupid that it begs to be called out for their predictable story lines which they all parrot.

The idea that Zook is classy is totally unprovable. In fact I demonstrated evidence from his resume that shows a distinct lack f what most people would consider classy. And I forgot about faxgate. Look for an update to the post.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why people still hate Zook so much. Yes, he was a lousy fit for Florida. We don't really need a good recruiter (Although I'd argue Urban Meyer's a better recruiter than Zook, anyway), we need a schemer and talent wrangler. Somebody who can both put the talent Florida gets on the merit of BEING FLORIDA to good use, and keep them out of trouble. Spurrier was good at both, Meyer is good at both... Zook was good at neither.

Illinois, on the other hand, needed a recruiter. For years they've watched the top recruits in their backyard just walk away to other schools, they needed somebody to get them talent. Zook is doing that. Couple it with the fact that the Big 10 this year is about as good as Conference USA, and you have an up year. Of course, in a few years, if Illinois gets a real coach, somebody who doesn't seemingly look at games trying to find ways to lose them, they can actually start being a force in the Big 10. But they're going to dance with the one who brung 'em, and that means they'll ride the Zook wave 'till he crashes again.

JJ Gator said...

Anon #1, you're entitled to your opinion just as the rest of us are, but to try and say that the timing of the Zook firing on our part is "unjustifiable" isn't true.

Dr. Machen and Jeremy Foley didn't make their decision in haste; the big picture was evaluated and every factor taken into consideration before they decided to terminate Zook's contract on 10/25/04. Even though he did sign a contract for 5 years, unsatisfactory performance on his part was justification enough for his dismissal.

In the real world, does an employer retain an employee who isn't fulfilling the expectations of the company AND the duties outlined on their specific job description? No, they do not.

The problem is not with the editorials; it's with how the facts are stated and thus lies with the MEDIA. Many times they "put their own spin" on the story, and that's when objections arise. Sensationalism in the media seems to sell stories, and these writers know that - they goal is to capture and sway their audience.

Ron Zook created some bad blood within Gator Nation, and that won't easily go away. We put up with three seasons of mediocrity that could have been avoided had Mr. Foley hired the right candidate for the job in the first place once Spurrier resigned in 2002. And for those of us who are boosters supporting Gator football and feel the way we do about Zook, we have every right to voice our opinion whther you agree or not. Call it hatred if some of you wish, but the damage was done.

Anonymous said...

What the hell is wrong with buying an opponent's offensive plays? That's completely legit and accepted tactic in the coaching community. I have no problem with that.


Bill Belichick

Pompano Gator said...

I'm glad Zook is gone, but all this talk about him, when he's years in our past, is as tiresome as hearing someone talk about what a bitch his ex-girlfriend is.

Anonymous said...

Anon #3 (or maybe it's #4) here. JJ Gator is absolutely right in that Machen and Foley kept Zook around FAR longer than he should've been considering his actual job performance, and it fact it seemed to me they were looking for ways NOT to have to fire him, until the aforementioned Mississippi State loss forced their hand.

Screw the media. They are the primary reason America has turned into a society of enablers and excuse-makers, who now refuse to even admit mistakes are even mistakes. If someone screws up 999 times out of 1000, the one time he gets it right is emphasized by the media, who then treats everyone who righfully couldn't take the 999 times he screwed up as shortsighted, insensitive fools.

Anonymous said...

Same anon again, just breaking up my comments so they'll be readable.

Let's see...the current Big 10 is composed of one of the biggest paper tigers I've ever seen (Ohio State), a big-name, big-rep school who lost to Appalachian State, another school who's lucky not to have 7 losses right now (Wisconsin), and a bunch of dross. And I personally saw the REAL Zook Effect when the Illini played Michigan--I literally lost count of all the idiotic, imbecilic and undisciplined mistakes they made in that game. It all looked so familiar.

In swear, the 3 years Zook was the Gators' head coach seems more like ten to me, it just seemed like it would never end.

BTW I'm also a DolFan, and I'd love to see Cam Cameron fired right now, before his FIRST year is over. Badness is badness and one shouldn't need a year or more to identify and get rid of it. It's like burning your hand on a hot stove. Does anybody really put their hand back on it just to see if it's really hot? Of course not. Once is enough.

JJ Gator said...

Another item to add to the Ron Zook is classless list:

After major upsets, it seems the Illini players engaged in fights with their opponents in away games post-game. It was Michigan State in 2006, Ohio State in 2007. Yeah Joe Henderson, Zook is really a class act - especially when the players he's accountable for stoop to goon behavior and displays of poor sportsmanship like that.

Anonymous said...

As far as our bowl opponent, I'd rather play Michigan than "Illinoise". We need to avenge that "Rex was open" loss thanks in part to Zook, and take care of some unfinished business with them.

yankeegator said...

pompano, I agree with you to a certain extent.

BUT...the difference is:
we had NO interest in THIS particular ex-girlfriend, we were "set up" with her/him 'cuz Dad was an "old friend." Then, when the "relationship" went to hell (as WE knew it would), the ex recieved a HUGE settlement to just shut up and go away. But NOW, "the bitch" keeps on ripping US to the media every chance she/he gets.

Anonymous said...

Zook is ripping us every chance he gets? Oh my God! That sonofabitch! That means he's no better than Steve Spurrier!

Whether you got set up with your ex-girlfriend or you met her yourself . . . if your still obsessive about her . . . you got problems.

Henry Gomez said...

Ok, we've got problems. Happy now?

JJ Gator said...

According to Sports Illustrated, both Ohio State AND Illinoise were fined $10K for that post-game fight I mentioned earlier.

I'd LOVE to hear what Joe Henderson has to say about that (LMAO)!

mlmintampa said...

I love the tough guys who leave anon comments.

Anonymous said...

I hate the SEC. You're all a bunch of damn babies. What other division would be talking badly about a coach that left your division several years ago. For the love of God, get over it. You guys obviusly didn't like Zook as your coach, Zook has moved on, why don't you.

Henry said...


The SEC is not a division, it's a conference. And the media's love affair with losers like Zook has nothing to do with the SEC. I'm having a hard time following your Zookian logic. Lastly, who the fuck are you to tell me what to care about or write about? I don't have to move on. Why don't you just move on and accept that not everybody thinks your coach is the damned messiah?

Fuck off.

JJ Gator said...

To that last "anon":

If you're from the Big Ten, people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Seems it's a crime for Florida fans to not like Zook in your book, but as far as the "crybaby" remark, what about Michigan whining about not getting another shot at tOSU last year, as well as all their bitching about Carr? You're putting your foot in your mouth there, bub.

As far as Zook goes, there are some Gator fans who like him and there are some of us who don't - and for those of us who don't that's our prerogative. Just because Florida fired him for legitimate reasons we're made out to be the bad guy and Zook to be the lamb led to slaughter, at least that's the way the media and the Zook apologists see it. That's BULLSHIT!

And as long as cyberspace remains an open forum we have every right to voice our opinions whether you agree or not. Why don't YOU learn to respect that?