November 14 Illinois Football Chat

November 14 Illinois Football Chat

Monday, November 14, 2011 - 1:00pm

Is it Senior Day for Ron Zook? The coach had a miserable weekend: a fourth straight loss, player arrests, Trulon Henry getting shot. Is his run over at Illinois? Ask beat writer Bob Asmussen, whose chatting today.

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 12:11 pm
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Welcome back to another chat. We've got about 8,000 questions, so I'm going to get to them. I'll answer for about an hour. Sorry ahead of time to any questions that don't get answered.

I'll be doing a postgame chat Saturday.


Zeke78 wrote on November 14, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Mike Thomas was so visible at the start of the football season yet seems to have gone into hiding.  What is the buzz about Zook?  His discriminator was his recruiting and that has gone away, what's left?  Who are the names being mentioned for our next coach?

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm
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Mike Thomas hasn't gone into hiding. Far from it. I saw him on the sidelines Saturday and he greeted the players as they left the field. He also came to Loren Tate's birthday party a week ago. So, he's been out.

He faces a difficult task, evaluating the future of the football program. I don't think he can come to a conclusion until he sees how it finishes out. Would a win against Wisconsin change Ron Zook's fate? Maybe.

There are all sorts of talented coaches out there for any opening. I'd start with Mike Sumlin at Houston, who played at Purdue. And I think Mike Thomas would be interested in Butch Jones, who he hired at Cincinnati.


Joe from Indy wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Hey Bob thanks for your chats. This accident that happened on saturday night after the ball game doesnt look good for Zook if he wants to keep his job especially when the Illini have lost 4 in row. Two questions 1. Why doesnt he have a curfew for the players and 2. Why are players out late at night after a bad loss?

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm
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Ron Zook doesn't have a curfew, in part, because he doesn't feel one is needed during the week. The players have to be up at 6 a.m. for morning practices, so that means they have to get to bed at a reasonable time if they are smart. Friday nights, they are together. I believe he gives them Saturday night without a curfew with the hopes that they will do the right thing. For the most part, they do.

Most of the players at the party, as I understand it, are redshirting freshmen who didn't play in the game. That doesn't excuse them being out late. Nothing good happens after 2 a.m. When most of us were 18 or 19, we didn't always do the right thing.



Chris N. wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Players arrested again!!  It seems Zook has had more criminal arrest with this football team then wins.  Please tell me this is the last season we have to endure this!  I'm already not renewing my season tickets if Zook is back, do I have to quit giving money as well?




Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm
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Chris N.,

I don't think any decision will be made until after the regular season. If Illinois loses to Wisconsin, I think there's a great chance a change will be made after the game at Minnesota. Doesn't mean it will happen, but it sure seems to be pointing that way.

One bit of advice for everyone who follows the Illinois program: Don't believe anybody who says it has already happened. From what I understand about Mike Thomas, he is not the type to rush to a decision until he has all of the information. And he doesn't have all of the information right now.



John B wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Bob, thanks for taking our questions today, I'll give you a break and not ask about firing Zook, Petrino or possible replacements. My question is about the offense though. Where is the creativity? When it's 3rd and 1, you have a mobile qb and good tight ends, where is the bootleg or play action pass? And why not do some trick plays like what we saw last year? It just seems like the offense is so predictable, run Ford up the middle or pass to Jenkins. We need some wrinkles to at least make the other teams defensive coordinator work for his money. And while I'm on the subject, is there a record kept for most targets of a wide receiver? Throwing to Jenkins over and over again is great when it works, even half the time, but the last time I saw the stat, I think he had 20 passes thrown to him and caught 8.

Thanks again for taking our questions, lets try to maintain dignity against Wisconsin.

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm
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John B,

Here's my guess on the offense and lack of creativity: Paul Petrino doesn't feel comfortable calling exotics because he fears the players won't be able to handle them. He doesn't have the talent he had at tailback a year ago and the line isn't playing as well. So, while a triple reverse seems like a cool idea, he must think it will be a miserable failure.

At this point, I would do anything to try to shake things up. Against a team like Wisconsin, there is nothing to lose.

I think very highly of Nathan Scheelhaase as a player and as a person. But it might be time to give Reilly O'Toole the ball some more. Maybe don't start him, but get him into the game early and let him run the team for a quarter or so. See what happens. Because in the last four games, the offense hasn't been working.


Jman wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

If Zook gets let go why would anyone good want the illini job other than its a big 10 school. Its graveyard for coaches.  

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm
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Right now, you are right. The last two coaches were fired and it looks like a third could be on the way. But it doesn't have to continue. Illinois has good facilities, talent in the state and a fan base ready to jump on board. What it needs is a string of successful seasons.

There has never been a better time for Illinois in the Big Ten. Penn State could be on its way to a deep slide and Ohio State faces a coaching change and probation. There is an opening for Illinois to move up in the Leaders Division on more than a temporary basis.

It is interesting, however, that there is a graveyard across the street from the stadium. Was that planned?

John M wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Bob, Which of our Freshman, either redshirt or true, really impress you and could be future All Big Ten?

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm
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John M,

I haven't seen any of the redshirting freshmen since Camp Rantoul. I've heard some good things about several of them.

Of the freshmen who have played, you have to be impressed by Jon Davis. I think he could be an exceptional player very soon. And I still think Donovonn Young has a chance to be a standout. The fumble issues haven't all been his.

We haven't got to see him play much, but tight end Matt LaCosse should be a major contributor later in his career. Remember, he played quarterback in high school and is making the transition to a new position.


Anonymous User wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Any chance we pull Boise State head coach to Illinois?

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm
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I don't think so. Chris Petersen has been rumored for other jobs. One of these days, he might bite, but I think he would be more likely to go to a Pac-12 school. If Ohio State calls, maybe he listens.

The Boise State situation might turn frustrating for Petersen. Lose one game and you are out of the BCS and playing in the Vegas Bowl. That doesn't seem right. And he can't be happy with the Big East flirtation. That would be a horrible decision for Boise State.

John Lanman wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

It appears to me Paul Petrino is dead set on establishing the run, first and passing only as needed. Where in my opinions sometimes you need to pass to set up the run.  When the other team is putting a extreme amount of pressure on our quaterback, we run very few screens or draw palys and we don't roll the quaterback out of the pocket in an attempt to slow the opposing teams pass rush.  We also do very little to strech the field.  Most of our pass plays are ten yards or less allowing the other teams to stack the box against the run.  We need to get much more creative and aggressive in our play calling.. I can't totally fault the offensive line, when the play calling lacks imagination does nothing to spread the field or slow the opposing teams pass rush.

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm
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Excellent observations. You obviously know your offense. I don't know what the answers are for Petrino. He's got some limitations in terms of talent to deal with.

NotSoSpecialTeams wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Assuming we lose to Wiscy, can Zook save his job with a win over Minny?  Or, is it a foregone conclusion that the Zooker is out?  I hope the former, as I can't recall a more brutal 4 game stretch.

Thanks for the chat.

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm
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I don't think anything has been determined yet. I think if Illinois beats Wisconsin that Ron Zook would have a strong chance to return. But I don't know what a win against Minnesota would mean.

Even if Illinois beats Minnesota and wins its bowl, it would be 8-5. But does that restore the faith from fans and recruits? That's a call for Mike Thomas.

Helmet Police wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Hey Bob, love the chats.

Would you mind explaining exactly what dollar amount it would cost to make a coaching change right after the MINN game?

Is/could any $ be deferred? 

Would that liability lessen if RZ took a job right away (I'm sure somebody would bring him on to recruit before next season).

And should we also be considering the two coordinators high salaries in this buyout estimate?



Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm
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Ron Zook has two years left on a deal that pays him $1.75 million. So that's $3.5 million. That number, and how you pay it off, can always be negotiated. I don't think Ron Zook would lose any money by taking another job. More to the point, I don't expect him to take another job if he leaves Illinois. He has said from Illinois he is "Going to the lake." That means the winter home he built in Florida. It's a beautiful house in a great location.

If the staff is fired, there would be another chunk of money to pay off the assistant coaches. I'm not sure what the provisions are if they take other jobs, but they all have at least two-year contracts.


TK wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Great to see the supercomputer project continuing with Cray coming on board, but I don't think even

a supercomputer could help Mike Thomas pick the best course for the football program. Both OC and DC

are in the second year of what I think were 2 year contracts, and Zook has only 2 years remaining, so

decisions need to be made.  After last year, the Petrino star was shining bright, but now his status is under

further review based on the complete ineptness of the offense in the last 4 games. Only Koenning seems

to have proven his worth, and if this coaching staff is retained, Thomas will have to insist that Zook make

way for a special teams coordinator. With 2 major coaching changes likely occurring in the Big Ten at the

end of the season, is Illinois at a major disadvantage if a coaching change is made at the end of this

season? Thanks

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm
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I don't think the openings at the other schools would have an impact on Illinois. They would be going after different coaching pools. Especially Ohio State. Penn State has a problem that won't be easy to fix.

Bruce Pierce wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Bob........Has Nate lost all his confidence? Is it the scheme or the execution (or lack of) that's the problem? Obviously we're playing against bigger, stronger, faster atheletes now...but we aren't even competetive offensively. This can't be the same group that beat ASU earlier this year. Our running game has suddenly disappeared.

In your opinion.....what's happened?

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm
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Nathan Scheelhaase clearly isn't the same player he was during the six-game winning streak. Yes, his confidence has been shaken. I don't really know why. I think the only team was fragile even during the winning streak. It held together, but something happened against Ohio State. It's like they realized "Hey, we aren't this good" and everything went downhill from there. It's a bunch of 18 to 22 years olds. They try, but if there isn't enough talent or coaching skill or confidence, then it can turn bad quickly. Now, had Illinois held on against Penn State, fewer folks would be talking about the slide and a coaching change.


John from Indy wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Do you think Zook will get fired before the end of the season or will Mr. Thomas hold off until the end of the season? Do you think he would consider Butch Jones as a candidate? Thanks for your time Bob!!!

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm
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I don't think anything will happen until after the Minnesota game. I don't think Mike Thomas would want to make a decision based on less than full information.

I think Butch Jones would be a logical first stop. Although Cincinnati is in the Big East, the league is in turmoil. A job in the Big Ten would be a much more stable situation.

jjohnson wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Who calls the defensive plays? Michigan's 3rd touchdown came on a 3-man rush just as did Penn State's drive against us, and in both games the opposition quarterbacks did not appear to throw well under pressure, and, of course, receivers had more time to cause defensive breakdowns in what appeared to be zone defenses.

Of course, whereas at Penn State it cost the game, Saturday's offense was so abyssmal it didn't make a difference.

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm
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Vic Koenning calls the defensive plays. I assume Ron Zook is involved in some of the game planning, but on gameday Koenning is in charge.

He said after the game that the players got out of position on some of the early big gains. That seemed to get fixed for the bulk of the rest of the game, though there were more issues late.

The offense needed to help the defense with both points and by keeping the Michigan offense off the field. The Wolverines got in a groove that was only shaken once they got near the end zone.

Sugar Bielma wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Hiya Bobby,

Is it too late to get a ticket refund for Saturday's game? The seats are close to the field and 50 yard line but I don't want to see another non-competitive game like that Michigan game was.

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm
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I don't believe refunds are available. My suggestion would be to find Wisconsin fans who don't know the game isn't a sellout and get your money back from them. They will want to be close to the action.


Anonymous User wrote on November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Bob, I won't even ask if you think Zook should be fired. I've seen the answers on Saturday night's chat.

 But can you tell me this: isn't the dollar cost to fire Zook today just about the same as it would have been to fire him at the end of 2009? Back then, before Gunther extended his contract, he had 3 years left at a salary of 1.5 million. Now he has two years left at 1.75 million, but we'll also have to pay off the assistant coaches we lured with the two year guarantees. I have to think that when the total of all those guarantees is added up, we'll be paying out even more today than we would have paid out two years ago.

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm
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I think it will end up being a wash. All those totals can be negotiated. Maybe Ron Zook won't get the entire amount. Maybe the assistant coaches will get other jobs that cut into what Illinois owes.

I was a bit tired Saturday night, but I don't think I wrote that Ron Zook would continue next season. I simply wrote that a decision hadn't been made yet. I still think that. But it does look like a loss to Wisconsin will cost him his job.

Salt Life wrote on November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm
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Afternoon Bob,

I'll make a wager with you. You seem to think Zook's job is safe if he wins another 1 or 2 games. I will bet you that Zook is fired immediately after the Wisconsin game (if not sooner). Mike Thomas will fire Zook early to get a head start on a replacement and it doesn't matter to him if Zook could win against Miinesota or not. I'll wager he's seen enough and it's not good enough.

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm
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Salt Life,

I don't believe I have ever said that Ron Zook will survive with one more win. You'd have to assume that the team will lose Saturday against a very talented Wisconsin team. But if it wins the game that has to be part of the consideration.

I don't believe Mike Thomas will worry about getting a one-week head start in a coaching search. He will do the right thing and wait until after the end of the regular season. The coaches he is going to pursue will have their own seasons to finish. Nothing happens with a new coach, in my opinion, until early in December.

conker58 wrote on November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm


Have the players quit on Zook?  I have always been a "zook backer", but my patience and I'm sure the Illini Nation's patience has had it.  The team is not rresponding to him and once again we have a problem with players making bad decisions.  I'm sure Henry was trying to help with the off campus problem.  Why were they (some players) even there?  Zook's a good man, just not the right one for the football program.  Was that confrontation with AD Thomas actually true?  I'm frustrated and looking forward to a new regime.


Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm
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For the most part, the players have enjoyed having Ron Zook as their coach. And for the most part, I can't imagine that they would quit on him. But some might have fallen off a bit. That's more human nature than anything. When you are winning, confidence is up. When you are losing, everything seems wrong.

Might be time for the athletic department to issue a department wide curfew for all athletes, regardless of age and sport. Nothing good happens at 4 a.m. (exclusion for the people who deliver my milk at that time).

Luke, Olney wrote on November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm



The Henry incident in unfortunate.  He is one of the few guys that I still have respect for especially after this incident where he was trying to be a team leader and get some younger teamates away from a situation that they shouldnt have been part of in the first place (especially after the summer incidents that occured).  Its sad that he will not be able to participate in his senior day game.  I did notice however that they were talking about a possible bowl appearence.  Any update on that possiblity? (assuming that we actually make a bowl game)  Hopefully this will not affect his day to day lifestyle or lead to any further complications. 

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm
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I believe strongly that Illinois will be in a bowl. Unfortunately, Trulon Henry won't be playing in it. His injuries are serious. Not career threatening, but enough to keep him out into January. I hope to have an update on his condition later in the day.

You feel bad for the guy, who has really turned his life around after some bad decisions. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt worse. He could have been.

STUMPWALSH wrote on November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm

BOB, It has been awhile, away in Virginia for 10 days ,then the week of Joe Pa.  I hate to say this but after watching Va. Tech twice, there are times you have to make a change.  The only thing I hate about change is that people ,good people, get hurt.  Ron Zook is a nice guy but we need to see who can replace him.  I am just wondering if our new AD can find some sparkplug out there.  What scares me is that I do not want someone like Brian Kelley.  He does not impress me at ND..  I feel sorta like between a rock and a hard place.  Time will tell. GO ILLINI-

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm
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Great to hear from you. Funny how different things are now as opposed to after the 6-0 start. I would have told you that Illinois wins at least a couple of the next four and moves into next season with momentum.

If a coaching change is made, I think you will see a good hire by Mike Thomas. While you might not like Kelly, the guy won at a high level at Cincinnati. And I think Butch Jones looks like a good hire for the Bearcats, too.


judge6 wrote on November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Bob, remind illini football fans who may call for Zook to be fired, that illinois' lifetime winning percentage from 1890 thru today is 52%. A winning season for Illinois is a "good year". If Illinois finishes 7-5, thats better than most years. No previous football coach has been able to create sustained success at illinois, so why would illini fans think a new coach would be any different. By the way, most illini fans also probably don't know that the illini lifetime winning percentage in basketball is only 53%. Face the facts, Illinois is a middle of the pack team, with an occasional good year in both sports.

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm
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It is kind of unbelievable that we are talking about a coaching change in the middle of a potential winning season and one that will end in a bowl. There haven't been many of those at Illinois during the last two decades.

Alamo Illini wrote on November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm

If you had had a yes/no vote in the process by the commissioner to remove Coach Paterno's name from the BT Championship trophy, you would have voted?  And why?

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm
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I would have taken his name off of the trophy. He sat there for almost 10 years knowing an awful act had occurred in his building. He shouldn't have his name on a trophy.

I used to think Joe Paterno was one of the great people in all of sports. I don't believe that anymore. It makes me sad. But you can't allow children to be hurt the way he allowed them to be hurt. Period.

So, no trophy.

Jimmy The Greek wrote on November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm

My buddy has set the over under on red in the stadium this Saturday at 40%.  I am taking the over.  Is that a good wager? 

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm
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I think it will be close. How are you going to determine the winner? Can I be the judge?

Bob Asmussen wrote on November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm
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I'm going to cut it off for today. My apologies for the questions we didn't get to.

Hit me up again after the Wisconsin game. Have a great week.