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.