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Three Bob’s November 15, 2011

I wrote a long post yesterday entitled, get this, “I’m In A Very Dark Place”.  Be very glad I did not post it.  The reality of our 4 game losing streak hit me like a wave while reading bowl projections yesterday, and I typed out some of the most depressing, self-centered drivel in the history of blogkind.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s a sample I saved before I deleted it:

Today, I feel like Illini football is headed for another fall off the cliff, and while many fans will have other teams to turn to and other sporting fallbacks, at the end of the day, I have Illini Football. When a cliff-drop happens, I feel like I’m in a room with hundreds of sports fans, listening to their conversations. And as each one leaves the room – as the “hey man, wanna go check out the Blackhawks game with me?” conversations transpire – I realize that I’m probably going to be the last one in the room. I realize that I’ll be in Rantoul in a few summers, chronicling the 7 Ways Illinois Can Turn Around This Offense, I’ll look around in the bleachers, and I’ll be the only one there.

Yeesh. Like I said, be glad that when you checked the blog yesterday, there was nothing there.

Today, well, today I keep watching the Ron Zook interview from last night. If you haven’t already, watch it here.  I’ve seen about 300 Ron Zook interviews over the years, and I’ve never seen him like this.

To me, the source is the confluence of events this past weekend.  The loss to Michigan – our 4th loss in a row – combined with the arrest of Jordan Frysinger and Kenny Knight as well as the Trulon Henry shooting (I mean, just TYPING all of that blows my mind) all combine for a nightmarish weekend for a college football head coach.  Especially one whose tenure might end in 2 weeks.

Ron Zook prides himself on one thing: the family atmosphere surrounding Illini football.  How many “what would be the positives of each school you’re considering” recruiting stories have we read over the years that included a kid saying “at Illinois, I really liked the family atmosphere – everyone just seemed like a big family”.  Zook would defend his players to the ends of the earth, which is why he once went to a frat house in Florida to get to the bottom of a fight.  Misguided, yes, but that’s Ron Zook.  He takes the whole “I will take care of your son for all 4 years that he’s with me” very seriously.  He’s fiercely loyal to his players.

But he’s also not very good at coaching football, as can be seen by his 34-49 record at Illinois.  Which brings us to Bob Asmussen’s question about his job security.  And Zook’s reaction: “Bob… Bob… BOB.  Not the time.”

I think the first “Bob” was “Really? I have a player in the hospital and you’re going to ask me that?” I think Zook views himself as a mentor first and a coach second, which is why a coaching question upset him.  Why discuss job security when Trulon had a bullet hit his hand?  Zook believes that Trulon’s recovery and the lesson his players learn from it is more important than whether Ashante Williams or Earnest Thomas will replace him (which, one could argue, is one of the reasons Zook hasn’t been successful as a coach).

The second Bob was probably “does anyone know how much time I spend trying to teach these kids that getting in a fight at a party at 3:00 in the morning is ridiculously dumb?” It’s no secret that over the years, Ron Zook has taken a chance on many troubled kids.  A cynic would say that he uses these kids because they’re big and strong and fast.  Zook would probably argue that he helps these kids because without football, they might be headed down a worse path.  Whatever the reason, the “we wouldn’t recruit a kid who would get in trouble like that” philosophy of Pat Fitzgerald doesn’t exist in Ron Zook’s world.  He’ll take a chance on any kid because I think he honestly believes he can help him.  And again, one could argue that if this was the goal, heading up a charitable organization might be a better career pursuit than head football coach.

The third Bob might have been more sincere – the reality of the fact that he’ll be cleaning out his office in less than 2 weeks.  The rest of the interview, to me, looked like a coach facing the realization that despite all of his efforts to help young men build a foundation for a solid life, it really doesn’t matter much if you can’t beat Purdue. He’s getting paid millions to produce wins and fill stadiums, and with a 34-49 record, he’s not doing what he’s paid to do.  And for that, he’s facing the reality that after 7 years here, he has about 10 days left.

Ron Zook is as positive and upbeat as any human being you will ever meet (yet another personality trait that’s probably a negative for a college football coach), so I have to be honest: watching him like this is painful.  As frustrated as I’ve been with his “don’t you worry – we’ll get that fixed” over the years, it’s still hard to watch him run out of positivity.  To see him bristle at questions and come up with crass answers simply makes me sad.

But it is a hopeful sadness, because it means my team might improve.  The millions we’ve spent on him haven’t produced wins, so we shall find someone else on whom to spend millions for wins.  And if I’m honest, the first time we return a punt 23 yards next season, I’ll probably Tweet something like “see, Zooker, it IS possible” and dance on the grave of a coach who didn’t have what it takes.

Harry Lime November 15th, 2011

Another great entry. Zook is clearly more Father Flanagan than Vince Lombardi. Running a charity might be a great job for him, he has the tools. I don’t know who would hire him as a coach right now. In the grand scheme of things, charity is a whole lot more important than football.

That said, let’s find somebody who thinks football is more important.

mattcoldagelli November 15th, 2011

Walked out of his weekly press conference today. I feel for the guy at this point – he was clearly just drained after the Trulon incident, which may have come not long after a tough conversation with Mike Thomas. That’s a tough weekend.

I don’t think anybody would dispute that he wanted success here just as badly as any of us did. After seven years, though, it’s probably time.

ILLINI08 November 15th, 2011

sad blog makes me sad. :(


eric November 15th, 2011

A fitting eulogy. Call me old fashioned but college sports should always be about the kids first and from what I could see Zook got that—most important—part of coaching right. I wish that he could have found more success on the field here and I hope that he and his huge heart and infectious positivity find success wherever he ends up.

GrogsBBQPepperoni November 15th, 2011

There are a lot of nice things that can be said about the man, no doubt. But just watch his sideline demeanor during a game. You can just see that he is a man who is in over his head and not currently employed in the correct job.

Steve November 15th, 2011

You’ve given RZ high marks as a human being . . . and I suspect that he deserves them. Honestly, I don’t know that much about him, but I tend to believe people. So, let’s go with that.
What does this process say about Mike Thomas? What is his statement doing that is beneficial to anyone? Unless he truly means it, what was the point of his statement that he won’t assess until the full body of work has been turned in? That would say that he hasn’t seen enough yet. That would be grounds for immediate dismissal to me. I mean, seriously, if he hasn’t seen enough, that is scary.
If he has seen enough and he has made up his mind, then why leave Zook out there twisting in the wind? Who does that benefit? The team? No way !! This will absolutely not help the team to compete with Wisconsin or beat Minny. Does it help Zook? Don’t see how. Give him his final check and allow him to exit stage right.
So, I’m thinking this was a mistake. Wonder what MT wishes he had said . . . instead of what he actually did say.

mattcoldagelli November 15th, 2011

I think MT is just being diplomatic and regaining control of the news. To have been on the job less than a calendar year and dismiss your coach who’s currently two games over .500 in response to rumor/leak is kind of needlessly dramatic and pretty unprofessional.

There’s just not a lot to be gained by firing someone right now vs. after the season.

ardubs November 15th, 2011

While I desperately want #pullaflorida to be the next thing trending on Twitter, I sometimes actually feel bad for Zook, such as while reading this. That lasts until our special teams take the field and then I remember why that bitter taste is in all of our mouths.

This helps take away some of the pain, though:

Duce20 November 15th, 2011

Zook is a good guy but his time has run it’s course.

Here is some food for thought though, Zook’s three best seasons in his tenure came in year 3,6 and 7. Weber’s best three years came in year 1,2 and 3. Zook has greatly improved the state of the program. Weber took a Cadillac and turned it into a Honda. Why is Zook on a hotter seat than Weber?

eric November 15th, 2011

Duce20 : 296-140 (.678) vs. 34-49 (.409), 6/8 seasons in the NCAAs vs. 2/6 bowl seasons, every year but one in the top half of the B10 vs 6/8 years in the bottom half.

GrogsBBQPepperoni November 15th, 2011

Gotta agree with eric here. Anyway, Zook pretty much took a used Kia and made it into a pre-owned Hyundai. And Bruce Weber usually isn’t usually the reason we lose basketball games, as annoying as his coaching style can be. Or at least it isn’t so blatantly obvious. But there are clearly some games where you look at coaching moves or Special Teams play in football and say, ‘Yep, Zook pretty much cost us that game’ or even that we won despite some of his shenanigans.

Joe John November 15th, 2011

Maybe you should save the “I’m in a bad place” post to next week.
Coming off a 52-13 loss to Wisconsin at home would probably be an appropriate place for it.

22 November 15th, 2011

can’t wait to watch you celebrate JJ. so cool.

anyway R, this whole thing is nuts. the grass is always greener Illini fans, been a LONG time since we’ve gone to back to back to bowls. we’ve had 2 good 4 year stretches out of the last 80. go nuts, tar and feather RZ. nowhere to go but up right??

Hoppy November 15th, 2011

Ron Zook is by no means a bad person. So when he fails you kinda feel for him. But when a man is not doing his job consistently it’s time to go.
I wonder if Mike Thomas told him he was gone. But instead of making the news all about the coach, he told Zook he would wait. That would definitely add on that final “Bob” that Robert talked about that let us know Zook was aware of his ticking clock.
Why would MT do something like this? Well check out last week when all that Penn State stuff was being reported. As soon as Penn State took Joe Pa’s job, all the attention went to him and who did everyone forget about? The victims and the real issues. Maybe Zook asked MT not to say anything because he didn’t want any distractions to take away from people taking care of Trulon and focusing on his well being.
And maybe that’s how Zook’s tenure will end. By him focusing on his players right up until the announcement of his release is made public.
One thing we do know, Zook equaled his regular season wins this year. After the Ohio State loss I mentioned that maybe Zook wasn’t our coach but he would be the consistent 8-4, 9-3, 7-5 coach that would lead to us getting a really awesome coach. Well I was obviously wrong, but maybe he is the 5-7 and 6-6 coach that gives a foundation that another coach might see as potential. And maybe that coach can take another positive step.

GrogsBBQPepperoni November 16th, 2011

Part of me wonders if it would have been more fortuitous for Zooks’ job security to start out 5-1 or even 4-2. That would be par for the course for Illinois to do that and then the fall from 6-0 would not seem so dramatic and terrible. But once we were 6-0 (against poor competition on average), people started talking Big Ten title game, 9-3, 10-2 and those expectations were never realistic.

mattcoldagelli November 16th, 2011

22, nobody is tarring and feathering Ron Zook here. I see a lot of people wishing he was the guy that brought some consistency to our program (because he’s a likable, loyal, energetic guy) and legitimately bummed that he isn’t.

chief23 November 16th, 2011

22 – This is the easiest Illini football schedule in 10 years. There are 35 bowl games give or take a couple, so comparing a bowl game now to what it was 30 years ago is ridiculous.

Nothing aggravates me more than the mindset that Illinois will never have a successful football program. That is completely ridiculous and short sighted. Wisconsin had Alvarez, Iowa – Frye, even Ferentz, Kansas State – Snyder, Michigan State –Dantonio, even Rutgers – Schiano and this list could be much longer. All of the aforementioned programs had a program changing coach, that’s it. They have no other built-in advantages over Illinois. In fact Illinois has advantages over these programs. Ron Zook has had 7 years to turn the program around, he has not done that. Recruiting is slipping, we are 6-4 going on 6-6, he is 34-49 at Illinois, that is not good enough for 1.75 million a year. And the fact that we are going to consecutive bowls for the first time in 20 years says more about how bad the coaches have been at Illinois than it does about how good a coach Ron Zook is

Joe John November 16th, 2011

Good point chief23.

Being marginally better than Ron Turner should not be enough to keep your job.

Joe John November 16th, 2011

So Zook offered a 0 star a scholarship, who has no other offers, in order to get his 4 star brother?

Yay, i guess.

Maybe the new coach will be able to keep the good one?

Duce20 November 16th, 2011

Eric, figures lie and liars figure. Your numbers are off and you used Weber’s complete body of work but with Zook simply his Illinois record. Furthermore if you remove their first three years from their coaching record at Illinois Weber’s winning percentage drops almost 100 points while Zook’s goes up almost 40 points.

One last thing, Illinois basketball is a top 20 all time college basketball program and top 4 in the BT. Illinois Football is a bottom 4 football program.

And Illinois has most certainly lost games because of Weber! Over coached teams play tight, tight teams lose close games. Illinois losing close games late is a pandemic under Weber. He also is absolutely clueless when it comes to managing a roster.

GrogsBBQPepperoni November 17th, 2011

Fine Duce, said differently, Ron Zook is not cut out to be a head coach. He’s in over his head. I would not say the same about Bruce Weber. I think maybe Illinois isn’t the right place for him though (he’s under pressure to recruit the type and calliber of player that do not best suit his coaching style – he’s a great “mid-major” guy). I think running the full show would be beyond Zook’s grasp at any level. And it’s way tougher to do in football than basketball.
RZ reminds me of so many NFL coaches that got head coaching gigs, it didn’t go well, and now you see them doing a much better job as a coordinator or D-line, D-backs, etc. coach.

eric November 17th, 2011

Duce20 : You are correct! I was sloppy with the numbers. Let the record state:
193-86 (.692) vs. 34-49 (.410)
6/8 seasons in the NCAAs vs. 2/6 bowl seasons
7/8 seasons vs. 2/6 seasons finishing in the top half of the Big Ten
You’ll have to trust me that the errors were born of laziness and incompetence rather than malice.

GrogsBBQPepperoni November 17th, 2011

Robert – did the Michigan game finally break you, my friend? It’sThursday and still no breakdown of the tape? Or maybe we’re just skipping it this week due to all of the extracuricular nonsense.
I know this is insanity, but we could still go 8-4. Stranger things have happened (not many though).

Duce20 November 17th, 2011

No problem Eric, I know we all bleed orange and blue around here but lately Illinois football makes me mad, Illinois basketball makes me want to quit watching or caring.