Tate: Time for AD to look around

Tate: Time for AD to look around

Tell Loren what you think here

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The Big Ten cellar has carved out a place for Illinois again. It is a familiar spot. If the 2009 swoon continues, it'll mark the fifth last-place finish in seven years, and the seventh in 14.

And there is nothing to indicate it won't happen, what with Indiana demolishing the Illini 27-14 Saturday night and with Purdue, shocking conqueror of Ohio State, next on the slate.

It's broke. And coach Ron Zook has no idea how to fix it. A team with ample returnees from 2008, when the Illini ripped Indiana 55-13, is floundering in Zook's briar patch. They've been outscored 116-45 in four conference losses, and most UI points came after the games were decided.

The defense is awful and the offense is no better.

It is only the middle in the season, but we've reached the jumping-off point. And so, as athletic director Ron Guenther motored home late Saturday night, he had no choice but to consider the unthinkable ... to mull over coaching prospects on his short list ... even as he insists, as he should, that no decision will be made prior to the end of the the season.

Previous losses were perhaps understandable. But this was an Indiana team that lost by 40 at Virginia a week earlier and, in building a 27-7 lead over Illinois early in the fourth quarter, showed a 470-275 advantage in yardage.

No passing this test

Illinois' pass defense was again the shortcoming that gave Indiana heart and momentum.

We reflect on the fact that Curt Mallory caught the coaching bug from father Bill Mallory, who was Indiana's all-time winningest football coach. But Bill seemingly forgot to hand his son, fifth-year secondary coach for the Illini, a primer on secondary coverage.

The basic idea is: When receivers veer out into the secondary, it is their intention to catch the ball. This is a concept that has escaped Illinois defenders for years, and was apparent again Saturday night.

Indiana's Ben Chappell, who showed up for Indiana homecoming with a 64 percent completion rate, passed Illinois dizzy with 23 bull's-eyes before pulling back in the fourth quarter.

The problem was apparent from the outset when the hosts broke out a tricky multi-receiver set with Chappell sharing direct snaps with "wildcat" Mitchell Evans. The confused Illini were pushed straight backward on all five of Indiana's first-half possessions, which ended thusly:

(1) Tandon Doss dropped an easy slant near the Illini 5-yard line, requiring Indiana to try a 38-yard field goal which Nick Freeland missed, (2) IU soon returned to the Illini 11, where two penalties jammed the gears, and Freeland missed again from 32, (3) IU came roaring back to the Illini 18, and Freeland finally made one, (4) the sixth pass completion in the fourth drive found receiver Demarlo Belcher beating Illini Tavon Wilson and sidestepping Dere Hicks for a 29-yard TD and (5) Chappell hit three passes for 19, 13 and 6 yards to set up another field goal that ended the half: Indiana 13, Illinois 7.

Forecast: Really cloudy

Point is, these completions were much too easy. The Illini's routine four-man rush (others blitz frequently; Illinois doesn't) and soft coverage permit a level of unchallenged pitch-and-catch that puts little stress on the opposition. Oh, rival passers misfire on some, and their receivers drop some, but the odds are such that Illini fans wince every time the opponent goes into passing mode.

Most bewildering was a 24-yard catch by tight end Troy Wagner near the end of the first quarter. Indiana had been penalized and it was a sure passing down. Wagner ran over the middle and was equi-distant from four defenders, all 10 yards away.

If you check the game statistics, you'll see that Illinois rallied with substantial yardage after falling behind 27-7. But it was over from the moment Juice Williams fumbled on the Indiana 6-yard line midway in the second half with Indiana hanging on 13-7. Chappell finished off the Illini with a 44-yard TD pass to Tandon Doss, and the Hoosier quarterback threw his third TD pass after Williams fumbled again on a sack.

There is no way to paint this with a happy face. Indiana was better in every aspect. And Illinoisans are asking themselves, where do we go from here?

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports


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IlliniKsouth2009 wrote on October 17, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Loren, you have to go one step further. We as Illini Nation need to call for Ron G.'s head as well. We cannot allow him to make yet another coaching decision. If only the administration would get a new A.D. to bring in new everything...

Illinigrad wrote on October 17, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Loren: You could at least admit that the AD has a lot more FB losses on his ledger than Zook!

dave1956 wrote on October 17, 2009 at 10:10 pm

I agree with you 100% Loren. The only reason Mallory is still coach is because of his daddy.

This team is dead. Time to pick out the casket.I would fire Zook and the rest of his incompetent asst coaches at the end of the year and call Mike Leach of Texas Tech. At least his teams are exciting to watch.

Im not listening to another Illini football game on radio the rest of the year. Listening to the Illini play is like having a root canal without the novacaine.

lookout2 wrote on October 17, 2009 at 11:10 pm

Time for a new AD! Get rid of them both!

peterborich wrote on October 18, 2009 at 2:10 am

Three questions for you Loren:

Will Purdue garner 600 or 700 yards of offense next week?

Will we, once again, win the coin toss and defer under the imaginary belief that our stout defense will not give up a seven minute opening drive?

Does Indiana have a punter?

DueWest wrote on October 18, 2009 at 3:10 am

Zook and Guenther have to be rewarded as other incompetents in society are. They must be fired. Simple.

TotalIlliniFan wrote on October 18, 2009 at 6:10 am

It's time for the Trustees to start a new tradition and put football on track w/o the elitest team headed by RG.

Bastogne wrote on October 18, 2009 at 7:10 am

I agree changes need to be made, but they need to start at Guenther, not at Zook. And when we go looking for replacements, pony up and get a coach that has a reputation for winning. There should have been warning signs with Zook at Florida...And quit giving coaches contract extensions after one successful season! Zook AND Webber have both had one good year in Orange and Blue, we reward them with more money, and then their programs tank! Leach would be an outstanding hire, but want would entice him to Illinois? His Red Raiders get national exposure every year in the talent-rich Big 12, Texas is warm, and he probably makes more than Illinois would ever pay him.

The most successful program on campus is Chad Cassell's Illini Hockey program! They have limited fan fare, Guenther is nowhere close to the program, and they compete for a national title every year.

hardcorefan wrote on October 18, 2009 at 9:10 am

Why is it all zook's fault did he carry the ball last night and fumble it?. NO was he out the and got hit with the ball when they punted it?. NO. So why direct the blame to him, he can only coach he cant catch, run, or throw the ball, I feel there are too many fairweather fans out here, You thinks coach is the greatest if he wins but you want him gone if he loses, your not a true fan!!

tailgreater wrote on October 18, 2009 at 9:10 am

Bastogne says:"Zook AND Webber have both had one good year in Orange and Blue"

Zook yes, Weber no:

"Weber has won 72.7 percent of his games while in charge of the Fighting Illini (152-57). He owns the highest winning percentage of any coach in Big Ten history who has coached at least six seasons in the conference. His 152 wins, meanwhile, are the most in Big Ten history by a coach after his first six years."

bernies wrote on October 18, 2009 at 11:10 am

I'm surprised I'm not hearing more criticism of Mike Schultz, the new offensive coordinator. He was supposed to be an offensive guru. Instead he's turned talented experienced players into a bunch of football zombies.

That high-powered offense Schultz ran at TCU last year? Well, it's still pretty high-powered (34 points per game), and the Horned Frogs are 6-0 and were ranked #8 in the USA Today poll last week. TCU seems to be doing just fine without Schultz, thank you. Maybe Schultz wasn't the reason behind TCU's offensive success?

flyinIL wrote on October 18, 2009 at 11:10 am

losing to indiana with this talent...we are truly at the bottom. there is absolutely no excuse for this abomination; however, i think zook should be fired NOW. the two good recruits we have are taking trips to ND, etc., and will be jumping off the zook train very soon. we need to cut our losses and try not to make this another 5 yr recovery. we still have lotsa talent - bring someone in for less $ that can really coach. i think zook has ADD and it affects his ability to organize anything...including his thoughts and speech.

flyinIL wrote on October 18, 2009 at 11:10 am


i'd jump schultz more if i thought he was the problem. the offense died after the penn state game last year, so i can't really blame him...

illinibri wrote on October 18, 2009 at 11:10 am

This is the worse Illini Football I have seen in 30 years!!! They suck big time and the coach has no clue. It is worse than Tepper.

OrlandoIllini wrote on October 18, 2009 at 1:10 pm

An entirely different coaching staff is needed.

Defense co-coords are uncoordinated, to say the least. Offense coord has destroyed what little was left of an offense. Special teams are clueless. The weight room coach has put too much mass (even if it is muscle) on many guys for them to have any quickness or speed; quickness and speed is what wins games.

QBs can't pass accurately. Receivers can't reliably run routes, and have too many drops when the ball actually reaches them. Most running backs can't make quick cuts. The O-line and D-line guys are tossed aside and run past. The secondary gives receivers wide berth.

The players have not developed self-discipline or self-control. They are football's biggest losers, yet they taunt the winning teams' players like braying donkeys.

The players have been made to look like they learned about the game of football last week. We have plenty of athletic ability and talent to be above average. "Above average" is a modest goal, but it is an impossible quest for this staff.

After more than 40 years of being an Illini, this year I am watching the football team be the most embarrassing Illini team in any year in any sport. And yes, I remember teams fielded by Tepper, Moeller, Valek... and Harv Schmidt's final year at the Assembly Hall.

Place more frosh and sophs in today's furnace to refine tomorrow's gold. Mark Butkus and Don Thorp had humbling adversity and failures as frosh and sophs, but as upperclassmen they had uncontested supremacy in the league.

Go Illini! ...but where from here?

greg6363 wrote on October 18, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Hey, dave1956. If you were the AD, would you pony up $2 million for a new head coach? That's what it will take to get Leach out of Lubbock.

sterbutsal wrote on October 18, 2009 at 8:10 pm

I want to preface my remarks by saying I am not a huge Illini fan. I love college football, but don't cheer for one specific team. Perhaps that makes me a little more objective. Ron Zook is a snake-oil salesman. He was able to convince Guenther and others that he was a good football coach who was unfairly judged by Florida after going "only" 8-5, 8-5, and 7-4 in his three seasons. He could point to the fact that he could get good recruits, and he convinced the Illini Nation he was the man to resurrect the football program. And lets be honest, wouldn't the fans be happy if the Illini were consistently a 7 to 10 win program that went to bowl games?

But as good as he might be at selling himself, he has demonstrated he is an absolutely terrible coach. He speaks only in "coach-speak" cliches and struts the sideline like Vince McMahon walking down to the ring at a WWE event. The best way to describe Zook is he is a "poser." He is playing a role. Zook thinks if he can do these things, it will cover up for his inadequacies. If Will Ferrell were to ever do a parody of a college football coach, he would need to look no further than Ron Zook.

jjohnson wrote on October 18, 2009 at 9:10 pm

This hurts. I have been at every game since Zook was hired; I saw dramatic improvement in the defense from year one to year two, and in the offense from two to three. I read all the raves about the recruits. But sadly, the regress has been profound. As someone pointed out in a comment to another article, the offense tanked after the Penn State game last year; Schultz's play calling may stink, but then so did Locksley's, so I think we have to acknowledge a different problem. Great though he was for the program, Juice never played more than maybe ten really good games; his passing inconsistency is even more glaring when you see the games live than when you sit on your fannies in front of the TV. If the coaches honestly feel he is a better bet to win than Charest, it can only mean their recruiting is over-rated. Again, despite 6 or so good games in '07, Jeff Cumberland has never been reliable as a receiver, so why is he still playing? Does that mean our receiving recruits are over-rated? Or is, sadly, the answer in the coaching. Man, I really wanted to see Ron Zook succeed, but unless we can somehow win four of our next six, I cannot see how he can be kept. That may seem a low standard, but given the schedule, it would represent some progress. I would hope that despite the bind he is in, Richard Herman would be ready at season's end to have whatever must be done, done. Ron Guenter has in fact been a great AD, and it is ironic that his two football coach hires have flopped, but he is smart enough to figure out a way to make a change in coaches work provided the administration is smart enough to be working on who would replace Ron when he retires. I'm going to continue going to the games, but last night was truly depressing.

Boomer64g wrote on October 19, 2009 at 1:10 pm
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"That high-powered offense Schultz ran at TCU last year? Well, it's still pretty high-powered (34 points per game), and the Horned Frogs are 6-0 and were ranked #8 in the USA Today poll last week. TCU seems to be doing just fine without Schultz, thank you. Maybe Schultz wasn't the reason behind TCU's offensive success?"

Except they finished #7 in the final AP poll last year with him as well.

TotalIlliniFan wrote on October 19, 2009 at 8:10 pm

Sounded pretty firm a few weeks ago ... still true???

"The only hot seat Zook is in comes from the bandwagon fans. And even of those, very few are calling for any sort of action to be taken against Zook.

The unfortunate part of opinions is that even those who haven't the slightest clue, are allowed to have them.

Coach Zook has done wonderful things for our program. And will continue to do so. Some of the greatest names in coaching needed longer than 4 years to make a name for themselves."

Posted by brandon on September 26, 2009 at 11:48 AM