Zook fired: 'Time for a change in leadership'

Zook fired: 'Time for a change in leadership'

Illinois fired football coach Ron Zook this morning, a source close to the program told The News-Gazette.

The university later issued a statement confirming the firing.

“I assessed the entire program and felt that it was time for a change in leadership,” Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said. “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. 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. I believe we need new leadership to take the program to the level to compete for championships on a
consistent basis. This is an extremely competitive conference, and we are determined to go head-to-head with the very best.”

Mike Thomas will hold a press conference today at 3:15 p.m. at the Assembly Hall. Ron Zook will meet with the media at 4:15 at Memorial Stadium.

Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning has been named interim head coach.

Zook's seventh season as Illinois head coach ended Saturday with a 27-7 loss at Minnesota. After a 6-0 start, the Illini dropped their last six games of the season to put Zook's tenure in jeopardy.

Hours after he was fired,  Zook thanked the university and his players for what he called “seven special years.”

Zook said he thinks the Illini aren’t far from being a good program and that they just failed to finish a few winnable games.
He spoke Sunday at a packed news conference.

Zook led the team to two bowl games, the 2008 Rose and the 2010 Texas. The team had a chance this season to win bowls in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. But a bowl isn't guaranteed for the team because of the six-game losing streak.

The highlight of Zook's tenure was a 2007 win against then-No. 1 Ohio State at Columbus. It came in Zook's home state against a school he grew up rooting for. Zook later served as an Ohio State assistant.

His tenure at Illinois was in jeopardy after a 3-9 2009 season. But he was allowed instead to make changes on the staff, including the hiring of Paul Petrino as offensive coordinator and Vic Koenning as defensive coordinator. Petrino was a hit in the first season, as the school set scoring records and easily won the Texas Bowl against Baylor. After a solid start in 2011, the offense struggled in the final six games. The team was shut out in at least one half in each of the six losses.

Zook, who spent three seasons as the coach at Florida before taking over at Illinois, He finishes at Illinois with a 34-51 record.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
IlliniNationsCapital wrote on November 27, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I always liked the Zooker - he's a good guy and he probably recruited beyond what Illinois football generically deserves. But yesterday made it clear that he had lost the team. We waited too long to fire Ron Turner, and the program won 8 games over four seasons from 2003-2006. This had to be done. Best wishes Zooker -

Chillyfan wrote on November 27, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Let's quit with amateur hour in Champaign.  Brad Childress is the obvious choice to replace Zook.  Pony up the dough and bring in a pro.  Chidress' resume is impressive at the collegiate and pro level. 

nolintaylor wrote on November 27, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Wasn't "Chilly" fired? NOT A GOOD HIRE! Look at the last guy we hired after he was fired as a HC elsewhere. He could win one year when he "recruited" Farve but didn't do much when Farve quit on him.

The last kind of man we need at the helm is every one else's rejects; we have marched in that parade before. 

Illini Founder wrote on November 28, 2011 at 7:11 pm

With your rationale Bill Belichek, Bill Parcels, and many other coaches would never of been able to lead their respective clubs to the Superbowl or the National Title Game.  I believe Brad Childress was very successfull at the collegiate level including Wisconsin where they consistently won bowl games and back to back Rose Bowls.  At the Eagles he set records for offense and went to 4 NFC title games. He would be a great choice with Illinois ties and will build a program we can be proud of on and off the field.

jonezjayson wrote on November 27, 2011 at 12:11 pm

This reads like an obituary, not a news piece.  I half expected Bob to announce a fund to send donations in memoriam too.


I really hope AD Thomas can make a great hire for a new coach.  Zook wasn't getting it done, but it will take someone special to do so.  More money will be wasted on a search committee in the interim, a la protocol.  Am I silly to think part of the half-million dollars we pay an AD is to find talented coaches across the country?  What does the search committee actually do?  A good story to follow-up on Bob.

spoons44 wrote on November 27, 2011 at 12:11 pm

They should have let him go two years ago after the Western Michigan loss eliminated them from Bowl Season.  He can thank Mendenhall and Leshore for his last 4 years of paychecks.

U of I accepts mediocrity more than any other University in the nation.  St Louis and Chicago are your backyard.

One coach down one to go.  Fire Webber!

Moonpie wrote on November 27, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Had to happen and about time Long overdue. Like others, I suspect Zook is a good man, but perpetually seems in over his head as a head coach. I still say he got a bit of a raw deal at Florida, where his record was good -- just not Flawda GooD Enough. At Illinois, though, he clearly failed. Now Saint Tate -- I mean, Mike Thomas -- will hire a new coach. I hope he finds a proven winner, but I am pessisimistic. Why would a top coach go to Illinois?

OKOMIS wrote on November 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm

i remember when self left and gunther said his main priority was to hire someone who wouldn't

use us as a stepping stone.. in other words settle for someone who would never leave...

i hope our new AD gets the best young talent there is, not someone elses cast-off..

and if he gives us 3-4 great years and moves on so be it..

but sooner or latter illinois is going to have to decide not to just settle.. put together a string

of sucessfull 3-4 year stepping stones... and all of a sudden we may become the destination...

afan wrote on November 27, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Classy statement by Thomas.  Illinois is in better shape today then when Zook took over.  If nothing else there's more talent in the program.  A good head coach could come in and do really well immediately at Illinios.  Hopefully they get someone good who isn't looking at Illinois as a stepping stone to his even better head coaching job.

Lostinspace wrote on November 27, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Look on the bright side.  Our poor performance is an indication that we must be running a clean program, unlike the powerhouses with their corruption/scandals.

sahuoy wrote on November 27, 2011 at 4:11 pm

The best move Illinois made was ridding itself of guenther but not soon enough to also rid itself of zooks tenure. Illinois may be better than when zook inherited but it was guenther that sealed illinois' demise. zook is over his with big 10 competition. that was obvious years ago. now with the new athletic director, mike thomas, the hope is a new chapter of excellence will overshadow the many years of mediocrity. great move to fire zook director thomas, keep up the great work. looking forward to your producing a champion team and legacy. my only regret is not taking the vegas odds and betting that illinois would lose 6 straight or not win a single big 10 game this season which is the real message of this breaking news after starting 6 and 0. pathetic at best. this change is justified and overdue. ;D


lcoil79 wrote on November 27, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Unfortunately, our poor performance is more of an indicator of the type of players we recruit rather than anything else.  Every year there seem to be more and more stories in the NG and DI of Illini football and bastketball players having some kind of run in with the local law enforcement.  Whether for excessive partying, underage drinking, or just plain ole getting into fights (sometimes all 3 combined), our players just can't seem to get the right kind of press.  We also seem to have a bunch of prima-donnas that can't work as a team and each believes they are a superstar and the only good player on the team.  Look back to the 2008 Rose Bowl where the 1st half was the Juice/Mendehall show where they repeated the same play over and over again, after 5 minutes even I knew what plays they were about to use. 

Athletic players are role models and should act that way and we should have a zero-tolerance policy for getting in trouble.  If they break a University guideline, they should be suspended for a game, unsportman-like conduct gets them suspended and fined by the school (make them pay part of the semester's tuition since they can't actually be fined), and if they break the law they get booted from the team and have to repay the University for all credited tuition/fees/ wiavers/ etc.  Maybe that'll get them to clean up their acts.

Getting rid of Zook is a good start since he perpetuated the status quo with the football team.  What we need is a coach that is willing to bring in the right kind of players, enforce a code of conduct in line with the school as well as the law, and worry more about getting the team to work together than how high he can negotiate his salary in 3 years.

FloridaIllini wrote on November 27, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Who are the Gator fans going to laugh at now?

Dan Bloeme wrote on November 27, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Who are Gator fans going to laugh at? Probably Will Muschamp who finished 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the SEC. Poor Zook even finished better at Florida with 8-5, 8-5 and 7-4 seasons and three bowls before he got booted. It was Zook's recruits that helped Urban Meyer contend for and win national championships after Zook was canned by Florida. Interesting in Urban's last nervous breakdown of a year at Florida, he finished 8-5 too . . . LOL

LoyalIllini wrote on November 27, 2011 at 4:11 pm

This is the voice and long term direction Illini have been desperately looking for and expect:  "I believe we need ... to compete for championships on a consistent basis. This is an extremely competitive conference, and we are determined to go head-to-head with the very best.”  Thanks Mike Thomas.  Can't wait to see your next move.  No more Tate articles looking at history saying we can't do it because we never have!!!  And if you are coaching a team with a limp along record - you are probably next.

JimOATSfan wrote on November 27, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Thanks Coach Zook and staffs for all the good things which manifested over the last 7 years, especially a clean program and a good graduation rate. Illini Nation will certainly never forget the great win at Ohio State in 2007.  All the best to you and your family going forward. 

I wonder what the results would have been if all those juniors didn't leave a year early for the NFL.  Some got hurt the first year, but had a dollar in their pocket: the reason they left anyway.

Not sure why the players 'quit' on Coach Zook (and the current staff), but the players play the games, not the coaches. Fans don't talk about 'firing' the players.

I wonder if Dave Toub (Bears special teams coach) would be interested in the Illini head coaching position?  

Go Illini!



DaisyJ wrote on November 27, 2011 at 5:11 pm

The crocadile tears in his last speech are touching. I do think he cared. But, this type of emotion should happen( before your fired) each week. It is late for everyone. Head coaching is a serious responsibilty for serious money with serious consequences. The main failure of Zook is the two good recruits that left the program the last two years. Two Pro Style QB's that saw that Zook was not committed to a different offensive and they also probably saw how he did not now how to judge talent and place them in positions that they could succeed at. Sheel was not a great runner nor a great passer so we had average production. He has always been the wrong choice at QB along with the wrong play calling for him. My god, we never had a screen play,tight end throws, or draws. We ran more out of the shotgun than threw. Add to this the lack of dicipline by the players which is in reality a lack of repect for teammates and coaches. Brown earlier in the year should have sat at least 5 games for the knee to the groin but winning clouded Zooks thining as Brown was too good of a player to sit, and we needed wins. I can go on but finally this day has come and like I told many people you can find any coach that can lose, find me ones that can win.

spangwurfelt wrote on November 27, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Who cares?

Feltrino wrote on November 28, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Hear Hear!

Batmantis wrote on November 27, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Easy to pile on of course, but like a few others here I thank coach Zook for his time at U of I.  Had fate been a bit kinder in a few games this would not be happening.  I don't like the firing but I do understand it. I hope he enjoys a few years off to relax and gets back in as a coordinator somewhere. 

Fromthearea wrote on November 27, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Seriously.  Football.  pfffft.  The real crime being perpetuated here is our lack of a decent hockey arena.  Have you seen Bloomington's???  Those guys know how to keep their rears out of the backs of squad cars.

illiniart wrote on November 27, 2011 at 10:11 pm

I think the guy who will have the hardest time with Zook being fired is Loren Tate.  He won't have anything to write about....unless he gets on Weber's case next.

Zook justifiably got fired for losing the last six games.  The horrible performance on Saturday made it easy for Thomas.  However, the constant drumbeat about the bad decisions he was making and Loren's weekly columns suggesting Zook should be fired were really over the edge.  The call for a two point conversion against IU may have been one of the most confusing (dumb) decisions any coach has ever made.  However, almost every decision he made after that was second-guessed this year, and you could make a pretty good arguement that the decisions were not always bad decisions.

The horrible special teams play, the poor performance of our offensive line, not scoring in the first half in so many games, the fact that Nathan played worse this year, and a lot of bad luck and bad calls against PSU drove the final nail in the coffin. 

It was time for the guy to go.  However, I doubt anybody has worked harder or tried to do it the right way than Zook.  We should thank him and wish him well.

It will be interesting to see how our new football coach will do.  It will be more interesting to see how Thomas reacts if the basketball team has a great preseason record against all the cupcakes and then disappears during the Big Ten season.  After 5 bad or mediocre years by our basketball team, I would not expect an AD who talks about championships to feel good about how that program is going if it flops again this year when it counts.


Moonpie wrote on November 28, 2011 at 7:11 am

Of course, we won't know what to think about the future of Illini football until Saint Tate tells us.

illiniphil85 wrote on November 28, 2011 at 9:11 am

Zook didn't get it done, but I see no need to pile on. The program isn't in the tank at least and a new coach will have a few things on the shelf to work with. It'll be a little easier to sell to a potential candidate. Liked the move to install Vic as interim. Don't act like you're close to finished Thomas. You have another revenue program in just as much need of fixing. Time to be assembling your short list while your working the phones right now. Better not ignore it or the heat will be coming down on you, not the coaches.

Fedupwithstatereps wrote on November 28, 2011 at 10:11 am

Speaking of underperforming coaches, when are we going to fire Jolette Law, women's basketball coach?!?!.  She hasn't had a winning season ever!

read the DI wrote on November 29, 2011 at 8:11 am

She doesn't make millions of dollars a year, and no one goes to the games, ergo ...