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.