| File:Ron-zook-withnavy-may-28-08.jpg |
Zook in May 2008
|Born||April 28, 1954|
|Coaching career (HC unless noted)|
|Murray State (DB)|
Virginia Tech (AHC)
Ohio State (DB)
Florida (Assoc. HC/ST/S)
Pittsburgh Steelers (ST)
Kansas City Chiefs (DB)
New Orleans Saints (DC)
|Head coaching record|
College Football Data Warehouse
|Accomplishments and honors|
SEC Eastern Division Championship (2003)
Big Ten Coach of the Year (2007)
Ron Zook (born April 28, 1954) is a former American football coach and player. He served as the head football coach at the University of Florida from 2002 to 2004 and the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign from 2005 to 2011. Zook is a native of Ohio and an alumnus of Miami University, where he played college football. He has worked as an assistant coach in the National Football League (NFL) with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1996–1998), Kansas City Chiefs (1999), and New Orleans Saints (2000–2001). In August 2012 it was announced that he has been hired as a college football studio analyst by CBS Sports.
Zook was born in Loudonville, Ohio in 1954. He played college football as a defensive back for Miami University, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1976. Zook immediately began coaching football, beginning at Orrville High School in Orrville, Ohio in 1976. In 1978, Zook began coaching college football at Murray State University. Through the 1980s, Zook held coaching positions with a number of college football teams, including Cincinnati, Kansas, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, and Ohio State.
Beginning in 1991, Zook served as defensive coordinator for three seasons at the University of Florida under head coach Steve Spurrier. After the 1993 season, Spurrier reassigned Zook to be the special teams coordinator, a move considered by many to be a demotion. Nonetheless, in 1995, Spurrier added the title of associate head coach to Zook's position.
In 1996, Spurrier promoted Zook back to defensive coordinator following the departure of Bobby Pruett, but Zook left Florida to coach in the NFL. Zook served three seasons as special teams coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and was the defensive backs coach for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1999. In the 2000 and 2001 seasons, Zook was the defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints.
Head coaching career
University of Florida
In January 2002 Spurrier resigned to become the head coach of the Washington Redskins of the NFL, and Florida hired Zook as his replacement. Given the success of Spurrier's 12-year tenure, expectations were high. Zook's hiring was not popular with followers of Florida football, with one fan starting a website (FireRonZook.com) within a day of Zook's hiring that gained national media attention. Many fraternity houses hung banners from week to week either praising Zook or calling for his firing.
Zook was head coach at Florida for three seasons. The Gators compiled records of 8–5 (2002), 8–5 (2003) and 7–5 (2004). While he achieved some success, Zook's record fell well short of what Florida fans had come to expect. In his three seasons the Gators lost more games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium than in twelve seasons under Spurrier. Many of the losses were fourth quarter comebacks by the opposition, causing many fans to question the prevent defense which was employed. Zook did not beat a ranked opponent at home during his time at Florida. Zook was fired before the end of the 2004 season after a 38–31 road loss to the Mississippi State Bulldogs (who were 1–5 prior to the game, including a home loss to Division I-AA Maine). Zook finished the regular season, but did not coach the Gators in the Peach Bowl because he had already accepted the head coach's job at Illinois. Defensive coordinator Charlie Strong coached the Gators in the Peach Bowl. After Zook's departure, his successor Urban Meyer won a national title in 2006, largely with players whom Zook had recruited.
During his time at Florida, Zook did have some notable accomplishments. He handed both the 2002 Georgia Bulldogs and 2003 LSU Tigers their only loss of the year. His Gators defeated three highly-ranked teams in succession in 2003, all away from home (LSU, Arkansas and Georgia). In his final game he defeated the Florida State Seminoles at Tallahassee, something Steve Spurrier never did. This victory occurred on the night FSU dedicated Bobby Bowden Field, leading Gator fans to refer to it as Ron Zook Field. Zook had winning records against SEC foes Georgia (2–1) and Auburn (1–0). Zook was regarded as a fine recruiter who brought a great deal of talent to Florida during his tenure as head coach. Following the Gators' victory over Ohio State in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game, Urban Meyer praised Zook for recruiting the large class of seniors who played in the game. Twenty-two of the 24 starters were recruited to Florida by Zook.
University of Illinois
In 2005, the University of Illinois hired Zook to replace Ron Turner as the head coach of the Illinois Fighting Illini football team. Zook inherited a program which had become a disaster since winning the Big Ten championship in 2001, finishing 1–11 in 2003 and 3–8 in 2004, including Big Ten records of 0–8 and 1–7, respectively. In Zook's inaugural season of 2005, Illinois finished with an overall record of 2–9, and a record of 0–8 in Big Ten games.
Despite his team's past struggles, Zook improved the ability of Illinois to recruit top football talent. According to one source, the 2006 recruiting class was one of the 30 best in college football. Despite this, they finished the 2006 season 1–7 in the conference and 2-10 overall. While the record did not improve, the play on the field did as the Illini nearly upset top ranked Ohio State in Champaign before losing 17–10. Additionally, the Illini played well against Iowa, Wisconsin, and Penn State (they lost 63–10 the year before; Penn State led 56–3 at halftime) but ended up losing close games (they were down 15–12 at Penn State until Penn State broke open the close game to make it 26–12).
The 2006 recruiting class included Isiah "Juice" Williams of Chicago Vocational High School, considered to be one of the top quarterback recruits in the country. In late 2006, Zook signed Arrelious Benn, one of the top wide receiver prospects in the 2007 class. More recently, Zook also won over Simeon High School standout Martez Wilson along with Florida prospect D'Angelo McCray. This class was one of Illinois' best in recent memory, being rated within the top 25 nationally by some experts.
Zook's recruiting success finally began to pay dividends during the 2007 season. After losing a close game on neutral turf to a Missouri squad which went on to be ranked as high as #1, the Illini ran off five straight wins, including back-to-back home wins over Penn State and Wisconsin. Illinois' 5–1 start gave them a #18 ranking in the AP Poll. This was Illinois' first ranking in the AP Poll since the end of the 2001 season. However, the ranking proved to be short-lived after consecutive losses to Iowa and Michigan. A homecoming win over Ball State gave the Illini bowl eligibility and a blowout win at Minnesota all but assured Zook's first bowl appearance as coach of the Illini. On November 10, the then-unranked Illini defeated #1-ranked Ohio State in Columbus, ending the Buckeyes' 28 game home winning streak. The Illini finished the 2007 regular season by defeating Northwestern to finish 9–3 overall, 6–2 in the Big Ten. Because Big Ten champion Ohio State played in the BCS National Championship game, Illinois received a bid to play in the Rose Bowl as the second ranked team in the Big Ten. Their improvement of 7 wins over the 2006 season was the largest such increase of any Division I team. His success earned Zook a contract extension in October 2007, which paid him approximately $1.5 million through the 2013 season. Zook's success on recruiting trail continued as well, with Illinois having the #17 recruiting class in 2008 according to rivals.com.
On November 20, 2007, Ron Zook was selected as the Big Ten Coach of the Year. Zook also was awarded the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award following the 2007 season. After making the 2008 Rose Bowl, Illinois was squashed, 49–17, by the USC Trojans, putting a bit of a damper on an otherwise great season.
Expectations were high for 2008, but Illinois didn't live up to those expectations early on, as they lost to Missouri, 52–42, in their season opener and to Penn State, 38–24. After a 27–20 loss to Minnesota, Illinois crushed Indiana, 55–13. However, the Fighting Illini fell to Wisconsin the very next week; Wisconsin had been winless in Big Ten play prior to that game. While Zook's team was able to upset Iowa, 27–24, a week after their loss to Wisconsin, Illini finished 2008 with a three-game losing streak at the hands of Western Michigan (23–17), Ohio State (30–20), and Northwestern (27–10).
Despite a very disappointing 2008 season, Zook's 2009 Fighting Illini team received AP Poll votes. As they had the previous two years, Illinois started off the season with a loss to Missouri, but this time, the result was far more lopsided than the previous affairs; Missouri won 39–7. Illinois stomped Illinois State, 45–17, the next week, but then suffered an embarrassing 30–0 shutout at the hands of Ohio State. Illinois lost their next four games by 10 points or more (including a 27–14 loss to Indiana, which was the Hoosiers' only Big Ten win of the season), sinking to 1–6 overall. Zook's team then put together a stunning blowout of the Michigan Wolverines in Memorial Stadium, and followed it up with a 35–32 upset of Minnesota the very next week. After back-to-back wins, the Illini fell to the rival Northwestern Wildcats, 21–16. To close out the season, the Fighting Illini put up a fight against Cincinnati, who finished the year undefeated, but were unable to pull off the upset; and the Fighting Illini fell at home to Fresno State in a wild 53–52 game the very next week.
At the end of the 2009 season, offensive coordinator Mike Schultz was released from his contract, and co-defensive coordinators Dan Disch and Curt Mallory were demoted to position coaches. Illinois hired Paul Petrino as offensive coordinator, and Vic Koenning as defensive coordinator.
After back-to-back disappointing years, the Illini had almost no pre-season expectations entering 2010. Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn were no longer on the team. However, running back Mikel Leshoure was, and he proved to be an invaluable asset on offense, where Illinois started freshman Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback.
They started off 2010 by losing to Missouri for the fourth consecutive year; however, they were able to take a 13–3 lead on Missouri, one that almost wound up lasting the length of the game. After the early loss, Illinois defeated Southern Illinois, 35–3, and Northern Illinois, 28–22. While the Fighting Illini lost to Ohio State in their Big Ten opener, they were able to give the Buckeyes a scare, knocking out quarterback Terrelle Pryor and holding the Buckeye passing offense almost entirely in check. Illinois then traveled to State College to take on the Nittany Lions, and Illinois had never won in Beaver Stadium prior to 2010. Illinois handed Penn State a stunning 33–13 loss on homecoming. They went on to win the Texas Bowl in a blow-out against Baylor.
As the 2011 season begun, the Illini were picked by most experts to finish near the bottom of the newly-formed Leaders Division. However, Illinois got off to one of their best starts in history by winning their first six games. After taking care of Arkansas State, 33–15, and blasting South Dakota State, 56–3, the Fighting Illini won a trio of home games by a margin of a field goal over 22nd-ranked Arizona State (17–14), Western Michigan (23–20), and Northwestern (38–35) in a game where Illinois rallied from a 28–10 deficit in the second half. After defeating Indiana, 41–20, in Illinois' first road game of the season, the Illini were 6–0 for the first time since 1951 and climbed to 15th in the Coaches' Poll and 16th in the AP Poll. However, the Illini lost, 17–7, to Ohio State and the season seemed headed towards a downward spiral as Illinois lost a pair of close road games at Purdue (21–14) and Penn State (10–7). Illinois returned home and lost to Michigan, 31–14. On the Tuesday before the Wisconsin game, Zook opened his weekly press conference by warning the reporters to ask questions about the upcoming game and not about his job status. When reporter Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune asked Zook if he had talked to his players about the rumors pertaining to his future, he promptly walked out of the press conference. The Illini went on to lose to Wisconsin, 28–17, and finished the regular season with a 27–7 loss to Minnesota. With the loss to the Golden Gophers, Illinois became the first team in NCAA Division I FBS history to start a season 6–0, and end it at 6–6. Zook was fired on November 27, 2011. His final record at Illinois was 34–51. The Illini did receive bowl eligibility and went on to defeat UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. It was first time in school history the football team won back-to-back bowl games.
Head coaching record
|Florida Gators (Southeastern Conference) (2002–2004)|
|2002||Florida||8–5||6–2||2nd (East)||L Outback||24|
|2003||Florida||8–5||6–2||T–1st (East)||L Outback||25||24|
|2004||Florida||7–4[n 1]||4–4||3rd (East)||Peach[n 1]||25|
|Illinois Fighting Illini (Big Ten Conference) (2005–2011)|
|2011||Illinois||6–6[n 2]||2–6||5th (Leaders)||Kraft Fight Hunger[n 2]|
|National championship Conference title Conference division title|
|†Indicates BCS bowl, Bowl Alliance or Bowl Coalition game. #Rankings from final Coaches' Poll. |
°Rankings from final AP Poll.
- Florida Gators
- History of the University of Florida
- Illinois Fighting Illini
- List of Florida Gators head football coaches
- List of Miami University people
- Miami Redhawks
- Isiah Williams - Football Recruiting
- Arrelious Benn Profile - Football Recruiting
- Scout.com: Football Recruiting
- High School Confidential
- Martez Wilson Profile - Football Recruiting
- Scout.com: D'Angelo McCray Profile
- Illinois' strong start earns Ron Zook extension, raise - USATODAY.com
- Coach of the Year
- 2012 Florida Football Media Guide, University Athletic Association, Gainesville, Florida (2012).
- Carlson Norm, University of Florida Football Vault: The History of the Florida Gators, Whitman Publishing, LLC, Atlanta, Georgia (2007). ISBN 0-7948-2298-3.
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