Joe Pa May Not Be The Last Big Ten Coach To Exit

Although he denied it in an interview yesterday, I think it is safe to say that Illinois Head Football Coach Ron Zook is on the hot seat. When asked about his job security Zook responded by saying “Now is not the time.” But he also said “I love the University Of Illinois and I want to stay here.” When he was asked further questions about his employment he immediately changed the subject. Ron Zook is in his 7th season as the head coach of the Fighting Illini football program.

This year the Illini started the season 6-0, but have gone 0-4 since then. During this losing streak the offense has gone downhill and the already shaky defense has gotten worse. While the Illini are already bowl eligible, many feel that the Illini can and should be doing much better than they are now. And I for one agree with that sentiment. While I think Ron Zook is a good coach when it comes to X’s and O’s, he still has his flaws such as recruiting and being able to take a program over the hump.

Let me remind you of Ron Zook’s head coaching history…… He first came to Illinois in 2005 after 3 seasons at the University Of Florida. He was originally the offensive coordinator for Steve Spurrier, he was named the Gators head coach after Spurrier left to coach the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Zook lead the Gators to 3 winning seasons between 2002-2004, compiling a record of 23 wins and 14 losses. Midway through the 2004 season, Florida announced that Ron Zook would be fired at the end of the season.

Although the university was not completely clear on the reason for his firing, there were many theories as to why. I have 2 main reasons for why he was fired: 1. He never won an SEC conference championship, nor did he win the SEC’s Eastern Division during his time there. And even though the Gators went to a bowl game every year during his time at Florida, they never went to a BCS bowl {2 Outback Bowl’s and a Peach Bowl}, and they lost every bowl game they played in. If I was an athletic director, I’d say 3 winning seasons is pretty damn good.

But college football is very political, especially with BCS schools. So Ron Zook was fired but was almost immediately hired by the University Of Illinois. Zook was hired to be the Fighting Illini’s head coach after previous coach Ron Turner left to become the offensive coordinator for the NFL’s Chicago Bears. Also leaving was the majority of Turner’s recruits who either graduated, turned pro, or transferred. There were some recruits who were still on board but for the most part Zook had to do his own recruiting for the 2005 season.

Zook was expected to make an impact from the start, but the Illini began a rebuilding process instead by going 2-9 {0-8 Big Ten record}, and finishing last in the conference. 2006 was even worse with a 2-10 record {1-7 Big Ten}, and finishing 10th in the conference that year. It seemed like the Fighting Illini were finally starting to turn the curve in 2007. That year they finished 9-3 behind Ohio State, and got an at-large bid to the Rose Bowl. It was Illinois first Rose Bowl appearance since 1984.

But Zook was still unable to get a bowl victory as the Fighting Illini fell 49-17 to the USC Trojans. After 2 more losing seasons {5-7 in 2008 and 3-9 in 2009}, the athletic department at Illinois decided to shake things up. They gave Ron Zook a new offensive coordinator in Paul Petrino, and made changes with a few position coaches as well. This resulted in a 6-6 2010 season and a victory in the Texas Bowl over Baylor. Even though Ron Zook finally got his first bowl game victory as a head coach, it still did not please the Illini nation. After the first 6 weeks of this season, it looked like the Illini were finally living up to Big Ten standards. They won their first 6 games of the season with sizeable margins of victory. The offense was running at full speed and the defense didn’t have much to worry about.

But since then the Illini has been on a 4 game losing streak, the offense has not been as productive and that has put the defense backs against the wall. This is been ongoing storyline with Ron Zook’s tenure at Illinois. And as much as I think Ron Zook is still a good coach, I also feel that his time may be running out at Illinois. The fans and the alumni are already voicing their displeasure with the current state of the team.

And if this losing streak continues, Ron Zook will most likely be out of a job. Illinois has 2 games remaining on the 2011 schedule, luckily this week’s game is against Minnesota. But they wrap up the season against the #17 Wisconsin Badgers led by star Quarterback Russell Wilson. The Wisconsin game will be a tough one for sure. But after the way Zook’s time has gone at Illinois, even if they do win these last 2 games it may still not be enough for Ron Zook to keep his job.

By Blogga Gabe Salgado

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