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Old 12-04-2004, 11:36 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Illini hook Zook (C&P)

Saturday, December 4, 2004

BY JOHN SUPINIE

OF COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

CHAMPAIGN - Ron Zook, fired as University of Florida coach in October, is expected to be announced as the Illinois football coach Monday.
Sources in Florida and Illinois who were close to Zook and his staff said Zook had accepted the job. The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun also reported in today's editions that Zook had taken the Illinois job.

Illinois athletics director Ron Guenther interviewed Zook, 50, earlier this week. Zook became the front runner to replace Ron Turner and become the 22nd coach at Illinois.

Guenther wanted a coach in place to salvage what's left of the recruiting season. Zook, a former defensive coordinator, is considered a strong recruiter. Two recruiting weekends still remain this month before a busy January and signing day in early February.

A source in Gainesville discredited a Miami Herald report that Zook wanted to remain at Florida to coach the Gators in the Peach Bowl.

Zook posted a 23-14 record in three seasons as Gators coach after replacing widely popular Gators coach Steve Spurrier. Zook's hire as Florida coach was met with immediate criticism three years ago. After the Gators stumbled in midseason, he was fired on Oct. 25 when the Gators stood at 4-3 following a 38-31 loss to Mississippi State - an overwhelming underdog.

But Zook led Florida to three wins in the last four regular-season games as a lame duck. The Gators finished the regular season by defeating archrival Florida State - Florida's first win in Tallahassee since 1986. Florida players carried Zook off the field on their shoulders.

The Gators were 7-4 overall and 4-4 in the SEC East this season. The Gators posted 8-5 records in Zook's first two seasons as Gators coach. Both times, Florida finished 6-2 in the SEC East. The Gators tied for one division title. But his popularity waned with bowl losses to Michigan and Iowa.

Zook attended the Florida team banquet Friday, but wouldn't confirm the reports. Illinois athletic department spokesman Kent Brown also couldn't confirm any announcement.

Apparently, Guenther found a man with head coaching experience and a background as a recruiter instead of going with a more risky hire.

"It's a good move," said recruiting analyst Tom Lemming, who indicated Zook had no recruiting experience in Chicago but could help Illinois' recruiting ties in Florida.

Illinois hadn't contacted the San Diego Chargers requesting an interview with Tim Brewster, said a Chargers team official. Brewster, a Chargers assistant head coach who was earlier speculated as the front runner, helped lead the Illini to the 1983 Big Ten title and Rose Bowl as a tight end.

Brewster, an ace recruiter under coach Mack Brown at North Carolina and Texas, attended Chargers practice Friday.

Fired on Nov. 22, Turner compiled a 35-57 record in eight seasons at Illinois. He led the Illini to a Big Ten title in 2001, one of just two winning seasons under Turner.

Zook showed interest in the Illinois job shortly after Turner was fired, a source in Florida said. His stint at Florida is Zook's only tenure as a college head coach. Among other stops as a college assistant, Zook served as defensive backs coach at Ohio State from 1988-90. Zook has a lengthy resume in the pro and college ranks.

Before his head coaching run at Florida, Zook spent two seasons as defensive coordinator with the New Orleans Saints and also served as an assistant with Kansas City Chiefs in 1999 after three years with Pittsburgh Steelers.

Under Spurrier, Zook worked as associate head coach and special teams coordinator in 1995 and special teams coach in 1994. He was the Gators' defensive coordinator from 1991-93. Zook also served as an assistant at Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Kansas, Cincinnati and Murray State.

He is a native of Loudonville, Ohio, and was a three-year letterwinner at Miami (of Ohio).
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