Refreshed Zook ready for new challenge
GREEN BAY, Wis. — There won’t be any more trips to the Cayman Islands. Not for a while. And his favorite hobby — water skiing — is going to take a hit, too.
But Ron Zook will happily trade the vacations and motor boating to return to the football field.
On Sunday, the former Illinois head coach flew to Green Bay to join the Packers. He is Mike McCarthy’s new assistant special teams coach.
The two have worked together before. McCarthy was the offensive coordinator and Zook the defensive coordinator to Jim Haslett with the New Orleans Saints in the early 2000s.
“He called me and asked me if I’d be interested in coming up to talk, and I said, ‘Sure,’ ” Zook said. “I got a good feeling. It’s a great opportunity for me to get back into coaching with an organization that is very, very respected. They have a chance to go to the Super Bowl. What more can you ask for?”
Zook has been out of coaching since he was fired at Illinois late in the 2011 season. Since then, he has worked for CBS Sports as a studio analyst. He has also been in constant contact with former Tampa Bay coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden.
Zook said he isn’t worried about returning after taking time away from the game.
“I’ve been involved with football,” Zook said. “I was studying film. I was getting ready for the drafts. I haven’t really been away from football. The day-to-day meeting, I have been away. But I did it for 35 years, so I don’t think I’ll have too much trouble.”
Zook admitted he started to miss coaching during the 2013 season. He talked to former players, who asked him for advice.
“That’s what you miss,” Zook said. “You miss the opportunity you have with these players.”
Now, he’s refreshed.
“I probably needed a break,” Zook said. “The seven years at Illinois and the three at Florida, they were not easy years, obviously.
“I’m rested and ready to go wide open.”
Zook expected he would have opportunities to return to coaching this year. He wasn’t sure where.
“I wasn’t going to just take a job to take a job,” Zook said. “I could have done that probably last year. I wanted to make sure it would be a situation that was good for me and (wife) Denise. I wanted to be around good people and people who were going in the same direction as me.”
Zook’s daughter Casey lives in Peoria and is expecting a child in May. Green Bay will be an easier commute for the Zooks than their current home in Florida.
Zook took advantage of his down time.
“We did things I didn’t know normal people did,” Zook said. “From that standpoint, it has been fun.”
He has been away from the NFL for more than a decade. But Zook said he doesn’t think that will be a problem.
“Football is football,” Zook said. “It’s back to helping people, studying and developing players.”
Since joining the Packers, Zook’s phone has been buzzing.
“A lot of players and a lot of coaches,” Zook said. “I appreciate it.”