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    Aug. 1, 2005
    By Dennis Dodd
    CBS Senior Writer
    Tell Dennis your opinion!

    CHICAGO -- Ron Zook knows his place in college football history. One of the most famous URLs in college football history is still only a couple of keystrokes away.

    Ron Zook brings a .621 winning percentage to Illinois after guiding the Gators to 7-4 in his final season. (Getty Images)

    "I took off from New Orleans, and before I landed in Gainesville, they had that," Zook said reminiscing (sort of) Monday at the Big Ten preseason media days. "(Pittsburgh Steelers coach) Bill Cowher told me, 'Man, you screwed this game up. Now everybody has 'Fire Bill Cowher.'

    "I said that's my legacy to coaching."

    Pretty much. For now. The infamous website now exists only to proclaim "VICTORY" in huge headline type through a doctored front page. Dwight Eisenhower is smiling out from a picture on A1, as if to suggest a battle of World War II proportions had been won.

    The going-out-of business-sale for gear ($9.99 for the thong panties, who knew?) is supposedly concluded. The site, in case you're wondering, supports the hiring of Urban Meyer and proclaims Saturdays are worth waking up for again, "with a Bloody Mary, of course."

    Coaches have been fired, run out of town and disgraced, but seldom all three, and practically never with a .621 winning percentage.

    Just so you know where this column is heading.

    What could have been called debuted Monday -- Zook, the new Illinois coach, taking some not-so-veiled shots at his old employers. Which was great. It's about time. The guy who delivered more filibusters than big victories at Florida isn't a boob or a fool. He's merely the latest guy-to-follow-the-guy, that unfortunate cradle of coaches that counts Bill Guthridge, Gary Gibbs and Gene Bartow among its exclusive group.

    In order, those three followed legends Dean Smith, Barry Switzer and John Wooden. Zook followed The OBC (Ol' Ball Coach), the Florida icon who won six SEC titles and a national championship. No, he wasn't athletic director Jeremy Foley's first choice. No, he had no head coaching experience. And yes, was literally fired up and running before he left the New Orleans Saints to touch down in Gainesville.

    But ...

    "What did you want me to do, tell them no?" Zook said.

    Exactly. What would you do if a super-rich major-college power dumped its football program in your lap? Delivered you from life of assistant coach servitude? Gave you that one chance that 99 percent of coaches never get?

    "People say, 'Why would you follow Steve Spurrier?'" Zook said. "It's an opportunity."


    Zook is approximately $4.5 million richer for having taken the plunge at Florida. He will make $1 million per year at a Big Ten school that won the conference title only four years ago. That's a million he never would have gotten had not Foley flipped through his Rolodex and finally found Zook to say yes.

    The former coach in Champaign, Ron Turner, became the Illinois version of Zook at Florida -- a nice-guy former pro assistant who couldn't win enough.

    Illinois has beaten exactly one I-A team since November 2002. It's probably staring up at another Big Ten title through about 10 other teams this year, but at least it's a job. Not a terrible one. A job he earned. Zook showed he can recruit with back-to-back top 10 classes at Florida.

    It was inconsistency on the field that got him in trouble. But just think how Illini fans would react to a 7-4 record, Zook's final mark at Florida. Illinois has gone 9-26 since winning the league three years ago.

    The difference? At Florida, Foley alone wanted Zook, at the time a no-name. At Illinois, they've just woken up from a magic Final Four run and are flattered. It's almost like, "Gee, we're able to get Florida's coach?"

    "It's a lot easier when you stay positive, when the players hear some positive things instead of constantly negative things," Zook said. "That's why you hear so many positive things down there (in Florida) now. They're trying to spin it back the other way."

    We've been waiting for The Zooker to say stuff like this since he was dumped by Florida on Oct. 25. You can't say the man screwed up Florida. The Gators are favored by some to win the SEC this year under Urban Meyer. Zook handed his replacement Heisman candidate Chris Leak at quarterback. The receivers might be the best in the country.

    Make fun of him "failing" at Florida. Mock his landing at moribund Illinois. Now sit back and take some, Gator Nation.

    "The expectation level is more in line with reality," Zook said of Illinois. "When we first went down there (Florida), the expectation level was not the same as the talent there. I think it's more in line with the talent level we're at now."

    Translation: Spurrier didn't leave him much.

    "It ain't going to get any better," Zook said of Florida.

    Translation: There's a reason Florida is favored by some to win the SEC. The cupboard has been left full.

    "He should be (favored)," he said of Meyer. "Them and LSU are probably the most talented teams in the SEC."

    OK, OK, we get it. No translation needed. The man can still talk.

    "I've got an athletic director, he understands the game of football. He was a coach. He played there, he coached there," Zook said of his new boss, Ron Guenther.

    Translation: Foley turned against his coach only when it became obvious the tide had turned.

    "Oh, Jiminy Christmas, overblown?" Zook said of the infamous confrontation with the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity two days before a loss to Tennessee. "I'll tell you exactly what happened. I don't want to say it on tape, but ..."

    And so, off the record, Zook gushes about his frustration. How he was hung out to dry. How he had no idea it was like that in Gainesville. How he deserves some credit.

    Yes, the firing was probably inevitable after the loss to Mississippi State. But no coach in recent history has twisted in the wind like this. Remember that Zook stayed after the firing, went 3-1 and walked into the sunset with his head high -- having helped wean Gator Nation off Spurrier.

    Someone had to do it, fall on the visor, er, grenade. No one could live up to or live in Spurrier's shadow. That Zook did it with such class should be his true legacy.

Related Topics


  • DJRamFan
    Spurrier excited about SEC revival with Gamecocks
    by DJRamFan
    Aug. 28, 2005
    By Dennis Dodd
    CBS Senior Writer
    Tell Dennis your opinion!

    COLUMBIA, S.C. -- You really can't believe he's 60. On a random offseason weekday, Steve Spurrier is bounding around his office like a kid in Toys R Us.

    South Carolina fans hope Steve Spurrier can do for them what he did for Florida. (Getty Images)
    "Have you seen Cocky?" Spurrier says, flipping on the switch of a two-foot replica of the South Carolina mascot that begins dancing across a ledge.

    "I was lucky on the hair genes," he remarks after a reference to his perfectly coifed hair helmet that looks like it has been preserved since he won the Heisman in 1966 -- as a dashing senior.

    You simply can't believe he's 60. A doctor checked Spurrier's heart last year during his year off from football. It looked better than in 2003, his last year with the Washington Redskins. What was he doing different? Relaxing. Well, that and a new interest in the StairMaster.

    "It gets you huffin' and puffin'," says the smiling man who used to eat quarterbacks for lunch, even when they followed instructions.

    Lunch was served again in the spring. Spurrier, you see, reads everything. Not many people know that about him. Newspapers, TV, Internet. He likes to keep track of the condition of the program.

    After a scrimmage, quarterbacks Blake Mitchell and Antonio Heffner were asked how they thought they did. "Pretty good," they were basically quoted as saying.

    "You call that, 'pretty good?'" he shot back next time the three came together.

    Spurrier sat down his quarterbacks and showed them a film of Florida's 54-17 victory at South Carolina in 2001. Rex Grossman threw for 302 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Gators scored the last 44 points of the game.

    "It was a game we never punted," Spurrier said. "Now that's pretty good, not hitting one out of three. You guys have to understand what playing well means."

    This is the Spur Dog in full. At an age when a lot of men are counting the days to retirement, Spurrier is counting the days toward the opener in his new job.

    "Sometimes as a young coach in your 30s, you're trying to act like you're 45," Spurrier said. "When you get to be above 60 or so, you want to act like you're 45. Health-wise I feel like I can do more than I did at 45. Hopefully my mind is still as good as it was then.

    "I think it is."

    Consider that a warning shot. The college football world is on the edge of its cleats, waiting for The Tao of Steve to return to the game. That opener against Central Florida is now three days away. National television is moving...
    -08-29-2005, 05:07 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Schnellenberger building a fourth power in Florida
    by DJRamFan
    Sept. 23, 2004
    By Dennis Dodd Senior Writer

    Why not flip a coin to pick a starting quarterback?

    Howard Schnellenberger had done wackier things in his career. Twenty years ago it seemed like he was throwing that career away. Miami had won the national championship in 1983 and Schnellenberger, the celebrated architect of Hurricanes football, bolted -- try not to laugh -- to the USFL.

    Needless to say, that didn't work out. There was an inspiring stop at Louisville and a disappointing one at Oklahoma but, really, his career arc was never the same again.

    "In my opinion, he might have as many championships as anybody, ever (if he stayed at Miami)," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "It's crossed my mind many times."

    So why not flip that coin three years ago? How is that more outrageous than creating a football program at an unknown campus in Boca Raton, Fla.? A place where the burrowing owls on campus were the inspiration for the school's nickname?

    Or agreeing to go door-to-door soliciting community leaders for the mere $15 million needed to go from germ of an idea to kickoff?

    Really, it wasn't weird at all for the 70-year old who, well, let's just say he still has extreme confidence in his abilities. So, yeah, it really was Schnellenberger who suggested in 2001 that freshman quarterbacks Jared Allen and Garrett Jahn flip a coin to start the first game in Florida Atlantic's history.

    "They were too close for a human being to call so God called it," Schnellenberger said this week, considering his latest construction project. "Certainly I would do that. Why wouldn't I?"

    Ridiculous is sublime again in Schnellenberger's world. Amid this season's talking points -- hurricanes, instant replay, kickers who can't kick -- is the job Schnellie has done at that owl-laden commuter campus of 13,000 students in Palm Beach County.

    Three victories, all on the road, all against I-A competition in Florida Atlantic's final season before joining the big time, which in this case is the Sun Belt Conference in 2005. Next year, this college football IPO will be eligible for -- please stifle your laughter again -- a bowl.

    All of it after playing organized college football for all of four years. All of it according to plan.

    "He was basically semi-retired in Miami selling municipal bonds," said Dr. Anthony Catanese, the man who hired Schnellenberger at Florida Atlantic in 1998. "I said, 'That's not the place for Howard Schnellenberger.'

    "He told me in five years he'd have this program nationally recognized. He did it in three."

    Almost all of it has been done with kids from the state of Florida who couldn't go to one of the Big Three -- Miami, Florida or Florida State....
    -09-23-2004, 01:14 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Gators fans disheartened about Spurrier's choice
    by DJRamFan
    By Brian Shaffer Independent Florida Alligator
    Gainesville, FL (U-WIRE) -- The name Steve Spurrier evokes great emotion from the people of Gainesville, Fla.

    It was an emotion of hope when he took the head coaching position at UF in 1990. It was one of pride when he led the Gators to the 1996 national championship. But now, after hearing that their former beloved coach is taking over at South Carolina, the people of Gainesville run the gamut from angry to indifferent to almost relieved.

    Rumors of a storybook Spurrier return to the Gators sideline began swirling almost immediately following the Oct. 25 announcement of former coach Ron Zook's firing. At that press conference, UF athletics director Jeremy Foley insisted that he and Spurrier had not suffered a personal falling out and that Spurrier was certainly up for consideration to replace Zook.

    However, Spurrier soon issued a statement that he was withdrawing himself from consideration at UF. Fans quickly began to speculate whether his statement was sincere, or if he had dropped out of the running due to the way Foley and UF president Bernie Machen handled the situation.

    "I think [he didn't return because] he felt the reasons he left Florida in the first place were still valid," UF historian Norm Carlson said. "He was here for 12 years and he accomplished a heck of a lot. I think that is the reason he issued the statement a couple of weeks ago withdrawing from the position. He felt that the reasons had been validated."

    While the reasons that Spurrier balked at the opportunity to fill the Gators coaching vacancy are up for debate locally, some UF boosters are not happy with the way it was handled by the school's administration.

    "As a booster and lifelong Florida fan, I am disappointed in our university for not being able to put a deal together with Steve," said Larry Martin, a Bull Gator from Ocala. "I'm also disappointed in [Spurrier] that he has now decided to coach against the University of Florida instead of for us... It has been a real tough thing for us to digest and to swallow. When you think about how much he means to the university and to the UF fans, it almost feels like we've been slapped in the face."

    Spurrier's landing in Columbia and not in Gainesville may have incited Gators boosters, however, current UF students continue to ride high following a victory against in-state rival Florida State and are still preoccupied by the turmoil surrounding Zook.

    When Zook was fired in midseason, Zook loyalists were few and far between. But after three consecutive wins to finish out the season, Zook has received a groundswell of local support.

    "I'm actually almost tired of hearing about [Spurrier]," said Jesse Colston, a fourth-year Industrial Engineering student....
    -11-26-2004, 08:22 AM
  • DJRamFan
    Penn State has Coke-bottle glasses about JoePa
    by DJRamFan
    Oct. 27, 2004
    By Dennis Dodd Senior Writer
    Tell Dennis your opinion!

    National feature | Notebook
    At least Florida had the power to fire its coach.

    Penn State has no such option. The only person who can determine the future employment of Joe Paterno is Joe Paterno. And at last check the 77-year-old was armed with a four-year extension as a foundation for an increasingly obvious stubborn streak. odds
    Florida coaching candidates
    Coach, School Odds
    Steve Spurrier EVEN
    Bobby Petrino, Louisville 2-1
    Butch Davis, Browns (NFL) 3-1
    Urban Meyer, Utah 10-1
    Jeff Tedford, Cal 100-1
    Rick Neuheisel, H.S. $11,000-1
    Bob Stoops, Oklahoma 1 million-1
    The silly season kicked off early Monday with the firing of Ron Zook at Florida. The 2004-05 round of coaching changes apparently won't include the departure of Paterno. What was merely uncomfortable the past couple of seasons could get flat-out embarrassing in Happy Valley.

    Those Coke bottles might help JoePa focus on his world, but they're still blocking his view. Saturday's 6-4 loss to Iowa proved that -- or rather reinforced it. The Nittany Lions have few Big Ten-quality athletes, even fewer playmakers.

    They are 2-5 this season and 5-14 over the past two seasons. In the last four-plus seasons, Penn State has lost 31 games. That's not a blip on the radar, friends, that's a trend. The school lost a total of 22 games in the 1970s, 28 in the 1980s and 26 in the 1990s.

    What little Big Ten talent Paterno does have, he doesn't seem to know what to do with. The coach lashed out at reporters last week after calling quarterback/receiver Michael Robinson "one of the best football players I have ever coached."

    Steve Spurrier is getting in some golf in Florida before a widely anticipated return.(AP)
    "Don't question me," Paterno added.

    Robinson promptly went out and threw two interceptions and fumbled on plays that ended Penn State's final three possessions. Most troubling, and usually a sure sign a coach is in trouble, is thousands of empty seats at Beaver Stadium.

    Apparently, not at Penn State where the school would be firing one of its biggest donors who has ties to bigger donors. That the final score was the same as the first college football game played in 1869, between Rutgers and Princeton, taints those first noble football warriors.

    Back then, didn't each "touchdown" count for a point?

    Considering the issues, jobs, coaches and schools this could be on the most interesting offseasons in recent history. Now that Florida has broken the seal, here the top potential openings in the country ...

    He's coming...
    -10-27-2004, 11:14 AM
  • DJRamFan
    Gundy, Stillwater run deep with optimism for OSU football
    by DJRamFan
    Feb. 14, 2005
    By Dennis Dodd Senior Writer
    Tell Dennis your opinion!

    STILLWATER, Okla. -- This is what a couple of victories over Oklahoma will get you ...

    Interest from a millionaire donor.
    Interest in your coach.
    Interest in getting better?
    Oklahoma State is in the business of answering that question -- again. It's a common one in Stillwater, where rookie Mike Gundy is the fourth coach since crippling NCAA sanctions tore OSU football apart in 1988.

    QB Donovan Woods will have the spotlight next year. (Getty Images)
    Its perpetual starting point is being the other program in the state, seldom dealing from a position of strength. On its own campus, Eddie Sutton consistently fields a top 10 basketball program. OSU football constantly fights for recruits, attention and victories against that national power 90 minutes down the road.

    Ah, that's where the Cowboys can claim some progress. Quick, name the only school to beat Oklahoma more than once since the beginning of the 2000 season.

    Yep, Oklahoma State, which has won two of the past four meetings and five of the past 10.

    "Our staff, in my honest opinion, does a great job of game-planning them," said Gundy, who ascended from offensive coordinator to replace Les Miles on Jan. 3. "We challenge them. We go after them. Some teams go out there and say, 'Let's get this over with.' Our players go right after them."

    Sooners everywhere have about eight months to let those words soak in. Until then, I-A's youngest coach (Gundy is 37) is brash enough to keep crowing. Miles wasn't shy about the subject while leading the program out of a decade-long malaise before departing for LSU. While his record wasn't spectacular (28-21), his organizational skills and game-planning were outstanding.

    Ask Oklahoma. A going-nowhere Cowboys team beat the No. 4 Sooners in Norman 16-13 in 2001, Miles' first season. They did it again the next year, winning 38-28 against a team ranked No. 3.

    Based largely on those two results, LSU swept in and hired Miles, the only coach to guide Oklahoma State to three consecutive bowls. Also based on those victories, Oklahoma State quickly replaced him with Gundy. Millionaire T. Boone Pickens was already on board, having given a combined $200 million to the school and athletic department.

    Mike Gundy file
    A brief history of Oklahoma State's new coach:
    Birthdate: Aug. 12, 1967 (youngest I-A coach)
    Wife: Kristen
    Children: Gavin, Gunnar, Gage
    School: Oklahoma State
    Playing experience: Four-year starter at quarterback, 1986-89; still holds school career passing record (7,997 yards)
    Coaching experience: assistant Oklahoma State, 1990-1995; Baylor, 1996; Maryland,...
    -02-18-2005, 07:48 AM