Tate: I stand by my letter

Tate: I stand by my letter

Listen to Tate on Monday Morning Quarterback.

Such a fuss!

Reaction to my "open letter" to Illini coach Ron Zook on Oct. 28 keeps reverberating to the point where I'm influenced to look back and see what it's all about. We'll call this the Stem-winder Sequel.

Of more than 10,000 opinion pieces this scribe has written for The News-Gazette since 1966, it ranked in the Top 10 in terms of praise, and in the Bottom 10 for criticism. Talk about extremes! Of course, it is usually this way when the Illini football program turns south. The opposing sides not only become locked into their point of view but don't really even hear each other. Trying to change anyone's mind on a controversial coach – Charlie Weis, Rich Rodriguez, you name it – is like asking a Democrat to vote for a Republican, or vice versa.

Raucous fan criticism trails all the way back to Ray Eliot – "He was so conservative that he punted on third down" – and I've already waded through 10 of these UI football coaching uproars. Pardon my cynicism, but it's wonderful for readership and talk radio.

OK, let's go back to the aforementioned letter, and take it one piece at a time.

– First, was there a problem? Was losing seven straight Big Ten games, all by double figures, and also falling to Western Michigan last November and Missouri in September worthy of a strong reaction? If you don't think so, don't read any farther.

– Beat Michigan and it'll take some of the pressure off. OK, sounds reasonable. As it turned out, consecutive victories against Michigan and Minnesota has tamped down serious talk of Ron Zook being ousted.

– Imagine, Coach Zook, what a victory would do for your guy, Coach Guenther. Well, that's obvious. The two Rons have been suffering together, and we've seen a strong transference of responsibility from the coach to both of them. Guenther recognized the desperate nature of things and had privately pledged his support to Zook before it became public through the comments of Glen Mason. The announcement was untimely (the evaluation decision should have waited until early December) and unsupported by a throng of UI fans. It fanned the flames. I estimated that 90 percent of Illini Nation felt the midseason announcement was unnecessary and inappropriate. Some said 90 percent was low. Others said it was too high. Who knows? It was somewhere up there. And, furthermore, when the athletic director said changes will be made, but not at the top, it didn't sound good for some of Zook's hard-working assistants. I try to keep an open mind on this, but it would be difficult to convince me, for reasons given, that the midseason announcement was appropriate.

– If the tailspin had not turned, we all knew what was next. At some point, Zook would be fired ... that's life in the fast lane ... just like what happened to Zook at Florida and just like so many other UI football coaches. Since Eliot, not one remained in the community and none was hurting financially when he left. So I made the same point regarding Zook, who has already been at 11 locations since 1980. My personal concern was for the legacy of UI grad and longtime UI administrator Guenther, whose accomplishments on the south campus far surpass the combined efforts of the last six athletic directors. It is unfortunate that his reputation is being tainted by what some consider his mishandling of the football program. This is happening. Are we supposed to pretend it isn't? Let me reiterate that I don't agree with his critics – Guenther's football hires were reasonable considering the attainable talent pool – but their voices are strong.

– Some reference was made that I'm bitter over Zook pointing me out to the Quarterback Club several years ago and saying, "He doesn't believe." Hey, this is all part of the fun-and-games, and I'm oblivious to it. It is my job NOT to believe, but to ask why: Why are the Illini winning, or why are they losing? The answers to the latter question are often unflattering. Long ago I learned that coaches want me to be their PR representative. That is expected. This affair is modest compared to the old firefights with Gary Moeller, Gene Bartow and Neale Stoner. When I got sideways with Lou Tepper, he prayed for me. That didn't work either. Like, at my age, I'm going to change?

– If a popular feeling is 55-45, maybe the minority has a point, and perhaps the majority can be rejected. If it's 80-20, that's another story. What I wanted to emphasize was: If the losing streak continued, the powerful negative feeling of the fandom would have an impact on decision-making. Isn't that accurate? Based on what happened when losses mounted at the end of the Ron Turner regime, it could be projected that the slump in ticket sales in 2010 might be similar to the cost of changing the coaching staff.

– But my underlying reason for writing the Oct. 28 column stemmed from my concern that, if the losses continued and Zook was retained, the issue would land on the desk of much-too-busy Stanley Ikenberry, and the interim president would find himself in a no-win situation. Admittedly, I have great respect for Ikenberry, and I don't want to see him brought into a sides-taking controversy either by overruling Guenther or going along with a highly unpopular decision. And this entire matter is complicated by the job uncertainties of all the involved individuals and the revamped Board of Trustees.

These positions still seem obvious to me. Why the accolades, and why the negative reactions? Aren't we mature enough to face facts and deal with them reasonably and logically, without insults? For now, with consecutive triumphs cooling the atmosphere, the matter appears moot. But thanks for the reaction, either way.

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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peterborich wrote on November 10, 2009 at 12:11 am

Loren:

The "by some" comment is just crazy. Any outside observer looking at the Illini football program would be stunned by the decision to renovate Memorial Stadium while saddling a team with a schedule that removed one home game to a neutral site every other year (the 2010 season for example). That same observer would be equally flabbergasted by looking at scheduling that apparently does everything in its power to prevent the team from qualifying for a bowl game.

A non-conference schedule featuring Missouri, Cincinnati and Fresno State? How could Guenther ignore the sad, woeful history of Illinois football when it comes to scheduling? His scheduling for the football program is absolutely and utterly indefensible, even though you consistently try to do it. . .

laptop wrote on November 10, 2009 at 6:11 am

You ares till wanting to run things and because you didn't get your way this is sour grapes. What happens if the rest of the season turns out to be a success. Are you going to take credit? Lets face it Illinois and Guenther has no choice at this time but to support Zook and you don't like that.

MarkHoekstra wrote on November 10, 2009 at 7:11 am

81-123-2. 5 bowl games in 17 seasons on the job, and counting.

JRan wrote on November 10, 2009 at 7:11 am

Don't you mean 1866?

illinizeeman wrote on November 10, 2009 at 8:11 am

You should teach geometry considering all the tangents you made in that article.

Guenther must go. So no other person could have accomplished the same in that amount of time? Maybe if we went to bowl games by playing an easier non-conference, we wouldn't have to sell ourselves out to play in St.Louis and only have 6 home games!

jjohnson wrote on November 10, 2009 at 9:11 am

Sorry, mim, some people have such short fuses that they can't get what you are trying to say, that, for instance, it was a player that fumbled inside the 10 at Indiana, another player who dropped a pass, and on and on and on. They would be happier playing in the Flushing, Long Island, toilet Bowl than competing for the BCS title. Zook and the staff have screwed up, too, but I think the biggest screw-up is that people have overlooked the paucity of juniors and seniors in the OL and DL. Now the freshman and sophomores are beginning to develop and it makes everyone look better. Loren is right, but some just need to wail.

walker wrote on November 10, 2009 at 9:11 am

3 comments...

1. Why does RG handle the football schedule while the BW & staff get to do their own schedule.

2. I though RG was scheduled to retire (this year or maybe next) anyway, so near term this issue will take care of itself.

3. I agree w/ mlm above, in that if you are a good team, then you simply beat teams like Fresno at home & Missouri on neutral field. If we schedule mostly weak teams at home, Illini Nation begins to complain about that too (see BB situation for doing the same thing in preseason)

walker wrote on November 10, 2009 at 9:11 am

was referring to pre- BT season in #3 above

mcripe1 wrote on November 10, 2009 at 9:11 am

Mr. Tate -

I feel Mr. Guenther has spoken too quickly on the retention of Coach Zook. I have had the opportunity while living in SEC country to see Coach Zook at Florida and there seems to be a repetitive trend. He can recruit like nobody's business but when it comes to coaching, at least at game time, he can't follow through. Granted coming to Florida after Spurrier took a lot of guts.

Regardless of whether we are bowl eligible, I don't think it would be deserving this year. There is so much athletic talent on this team that has underproduced the entire year I think I would be ashamed as a coach and/or coaching staff. Who exactly is doing the play calling? Why are we running on 3rd & 10?

I do hope some changes are made but maybe starting at the top of the athletic department and working the way down would be the best bet. Maybe Guenther can take his fundraising abilities and go work for a couple of rural hospital boards.

ax474 wrote on November 10, 2009 at 9:11 am

"Long ago I learned that coaches want me to be their PR representative."

I don't think coaches want you to be their PR representative. They want you to fairly and accurately report on the situation without inflammatory remarks questioning their character and passion. This is the part that you don't get.

"Like, at my age, I'm going to change?"

You are right, you aren't going to change. You haven't gotten it before, and you aren't going to get it now.

Fourtfour wrote on November 10, 2009 at 9:11 am
Profile Picture

I keep asking, but don't get an answer...

WHERE WAS IT THAT GUENTHER COACHED?????

Jam wrote on November 10, 2009 at 12:11 pm

RG is doing a good job as AD, and Coach Zook is also doing a good job. Mackovick had a good record, but understood that Texas gave him more opportunity. White brought excitement, but got caught up in recruiting violations. Blackman had a great record, until he got to Illinois.

Why do the fans think that anyone else will be different? Zook has elevated the level of recruiting which is why he was hired. Retention is a problem I assume because the UI expects their students to go to class.

This team has beaten three teams they should have beaten, and appear to have hit a confidence level that is growing. Leaders are emerging. The O and D lines are improving thus the improved play.

Loren keep writing, Zook keep coaching, and RD keep ADing. The world will survive.

bud wrote on November 10, 2009 at 1:11 pm

Your oblivious to it? Is that why you mentioned the "You don't believe" comment in your letter, because it doesn't mean anything to you? Get real.

You brought up again that RG told Glen Mason about retaining Zook and are now saying it was too soon. Isn't the real issue that he told someone else first?

The real problem is you. You are a negative person who thinks they should have some say in the direction of Illini athletics. An objective journalist would have never written that piece. You want Zook out, you think you can influence decisions from your pulpit at the NG, and you counted on Illini Nation to embrace your call to action. That's pure ego with zero objectivity.

This article just proves that point. You are using "logic and being reasonable" while the rest of us are just being immature. It must be nice to live in your world, where you see things the way they are and the rest of us have no clue.

Lastly, thanks for saving Ikenberry from all of this mess. (Ha!) The truth is that Ikenberry understands the big picture of Illini athletics, understands all of the positives that have taken place under Ron Guenther's tenure, and realizes how lucky the University is to have someone as dedicated, smart, and saavy as AD.

GiffordIllini wrote on November 10, 2009 at 2:11 pm

MarkHoekstra said it all when he cited the overall football record during the Guenther tenure. Ron Guenther has gotten facilities built, but has overseen the decline of Illinois football to the Big Ten basement, and we're not exactly talking a power league over that 17-year span. If the measure of success is facilities and avoiding red ink, which I believe is the standard for Illinois, Guenther has succeeded. If the measure is, or encompasses, the performance of the key athletic program, namely football, then Guenther has done far less well. His coaching selections have to be assessed in hindsight, as that is the only viable, non-speculative indicator we have. Those selections have been abysmal. Granted, one must consider the reputation Illinois has (one of very tepid support for the major revenue sports and outright resistance from some quarters within the University), the location, the condtion of the Big Ten, and other limiting variables. Nonetheless, like it or not, fair or not, the weight of judgment falls most heavily on the AD for a moribund and faltering football program.

Despite the two-game winning street, this season we've witnessed the program slide to new levels of embarrassing play, reflecting truly poor coaching, play calling, and personnel use.

Mr. Tate long has been a capable journalist and, from where I sit, and notwithstanding his self-assessment, generally an Illini apologist. Recently, he has posed fair and objective questions about the football program and it's leadership, questions that necessarily spill over into the general state of athletic administration at the UI. For this he should be praised, not castigated. Believe me, he has longer and better perspective than virutally anyone, and I am always interested in his take on the condition of Illinois athletics. This is no exception.

TotalIlliniFan wrote on November 10, 2009 at 2:11 pm

The different views being expressed are healthy. I would like the annual performance objectives for RZ and RG publicized so we can see what the criteria are that they are suppose to achieve. As a public institution, that should be fair enough ... even though RG runs a very exclusive club a privileged few have access too.

RAM wrote on November 10, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Count how many times the words "I", "me", or "my" appear in this article. The reporter has become the story. That should never happen Loren.

IlliniFanAtEIU1953 wrote on November 10, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Here is the answer to where did Ron Guenther coach for Fourtfour.

I found this article mentioning Ron Guenther at the following website.

http://www.bigten.org/sports/m-xc/spec-rel/090607aaa.html

Here is the part that talks about Ron Guenther and where he coached along with his brother Hank Guenther at North Central College in Illinois.

Maybe this explains why Ron Guenther doesn't have a problem with co-coordinators since Ron and his brother were both listed as co-coaches of the football team.

"His memories of the Orange and Blue are still being made today. When Carius was the athletics director at North Central Colllege, he hired Hank Guenther as football coach, who in turn hired his brother, Ron, as associate head coach. Ron would later be named Illinois' director of athletics, a position in which he still serves today."

I looked up the football record for North Central College during the time that Ron and his brother coached at the college which was during the 1975 through 1978 time period.

Here's where I found these football records.

http://northcentralcardinals.com/sports/2009/4/13/FB_0413094218.aspx?id=252

Year Coach Overall CCIW (Place)

1978 Hank & Ron Guenther 6-3 5-3 (T-3rd)

1977 Hank & Ron Guenther 6-3 5-3 (T-3rd)

1976 Hank & Ron Guenther 5-3-1 4-3-1(5th)

1975 Hank & Ron Guenther 5-3-1 5-2-1(2nd)

Since Ron was coaching along with his brother Hank it'll be hard for any critic of Ron Guenther to say how much of the success or failure of the North Central College football team was his fault or his brother's fault.

So now anyone that cares will know why Ron Guenther is called Coach Guenther.

ebalexan wrote on November 10, 2009 at 7:11 pm

Hey ax74 - Loren's job isn't to report. He's not a reporter or beat writer. He's a columnist. His job is to give his opinion. There's a difference.

rocko wrote on November 10, 2009 at 7:11 pm

RG also coached at BC.

IlliniFanAtEIU1953 wrote on November 10, 2009 at 8:11 pm

Rocko,

I saw your comment that Ron Guenther also coached at BC.

I'm assuming that when you say BC that you're talking about Boston College, aren't you?

I went and looked up the coaching records for the Boston College football team and I didn't see Ron Guenther's name mentioned as an offensive or defensive coordinator or as the head football coach.

Here's the link to the website that I looked up this information at.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_College_Eagles_football#Coaches

Of course, Ron Guenther could have been one of the position coaches and wouldn't have shown up in this list of coaches or coordinators.

Do you know what part of the football team that Ron Guenther would have coached at Boston College?

OrlandoIllini wrote on November 10, 2009 at 9:11 pm

Why bother making reader comments available, when most comments are semi-literate, vitriolic diatribes apparently intended to eviscerate the people who know and care the most about Illini athletics?

IlliniOllie wrote on November 10, 2009 at 10:11 pm

It's impossible to take Loren's comments seriously when he so obviously lacks objectivity when judging Ron Guenther as an AD. A football record of 81-123-2 speaks for itself.

Loren, we get it. You love "Coach Guenther". Just keep it to yourself, you're embarrassing yourself here.

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