Seven years ago the University of Illinois hired Ron Zook as the schools new head coach for their men’s football team and now after losing six games in a row during a monumental season collapse the team has parted ways with their leader.
Illinois started their season 6-0 but collapsed as the season moved forward with Zook’s final blow coming during their Saturday 27-7 loss to Minnesota.
Zook has had various successes in Urbana-Champaign with the schools first Rose Bowl win in the 1980s followed by their first bowl win in more than a decade last year.
A return bowl appearance this year would have been the teams first time they have made back-to-back appearances since their 1991 and 1992 run.
Over his career as the schools head coach Zook had five losing seasons with a 34-51 record. During the 2011 season the Illini were only able to defeat two Big Ten schools, Northwestern and Indiana.
Speaking to reporters Athletic director Mike Thomas said Zook helped strengthen the team he’s leaving behind:
“To me, really, you have to have success within your own conference,” Thomas told reporters. “The last seven years we won roughly 32 percent of our Big Ten games,” adding that Illinois had a winning record against only Indiana over that period.
Zook was notified of the schools decision on Sunday morning and later met with reporters, players, family and friends to announced his love of the program:
“I think our program is very close; I really do,” Zook said, “We just didn’t finish a few games here and there.”
With two years left on the coaches contract he will receive $2.6 million as part of his contract’s buyout clause.
The team does not currently have a replacement for Zook although their search for a new head coach is already underway. In the meantime Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will be interim head coach.
The only Zook teams to finish with a winning season were 2007’s 9-4 squad and 2010’s 7-6 Texas Bowl team.
Speaking further of the departing coach Thomas noted:
“It is imperative that our program shows some consistency and competes for championships, and I think a change in coaches can help us get there sooner,” he said. “I wasn’t here seven years ago when Ron Zook took over as coach, but it’s clear the program is in better shape than what he inherited.”
Do you think relieving Zook of his head coach role was the right decision?