Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: April 28, 2019

Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: April 28, 2019

Happy 65th birthday today to former Illini football coach Ron Zook.

A product of Miami University's famed "Cradle of Coaches", he played for coach Bill Mallory's Redskins from 1973-75. During Zook's collegiate playing days, MU teams compiled a 32-1-1 record, winning three straight Mid-American Conference championships.

Zook began his coaching career the following year as a high school coach, then started a lengthy college stint in 1978 at Murray State. He then made stops as an assistant coach at Cincinnati, Kansas, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Ohio State and Florida. Zook secured NFL jobs with the Steelers, Chiefs and Saints before being named Florida's coach in 2002.

Ron Guenther hired Zook as Illinois' head coach in 2005. Following wins in his first two games, the Illini then lost 20 of its next 22 games. The gold star on Zook's UI career was the 2007 season that saw the Illini go 9-4, finish second in the Big Ten and play in the 2008 Rose Bowl Game. Results, however, were largely mediocre during his last four seasons at Illinois (22 wins and 28 losses) and he was fired following the 2011 season.

From 2014-18, Zook worked as a special teams coordinator for the Green Bay Packers, then very briefly with the Salt Lake Stallions of Alliance of American Football before it folded earlier this month.

Illini Birthdays

Today: Scott Langley, golf (30)

Monday: Lenny Willis, Jr., football (42)

Tuesday: Randy Bierman, football (48)

Wednesday: Jim Kopatz, football/baseball (65)

Thursday: Alex Brown, tennis (20)

Friday: Lowell Hamilton, basketball (53)

Saturday: Mannie Jackson, basketball (77)

By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter @IlliniLegends and @B1GLLL. His website is

The Zook era

In Ron Zook’s seven seasons as head coach, 11 different Illini players earned first-team All-Big Ten honors. Here is Illini Legends, Lists & Lore’s suggestion for Zook’s all-star offensive, defensive and specialist units:


Pos.    Name    Years

OL    Martin O’Donnell    2004-07

OL    Xavier Fulton    2004-08

OL    Ryan McDonald    2005-08

OL    Jon Asamoah    2006-09

OL    Jeff Allen    2008-11

TE    Michael Hoomanawanui    2006-09

WR    Arrelious Benn    2007-09

WR    A.J. Jenkins    2008-11

QB    Juice Williams    2006-09

RB    Rashard Mendenhall    2005-07

RB    Mikel Leshoure    2008-10


Pos.    Name    Years

DL    Will Davis    2005-08

DL    Corey Liuget    2008-10

DL    Whitney Mercilus    2009-11

DL    Michael Buchanan    2009-12

LB    J Leman    2004-07

LB    Brit Miller    2005-08

LB    Martez Wilson    2007-10

DB    Vontae Davis    2006-08

DB    Alan Ball    2003-06

DB    Kevin Mitchell    2004-07

DB    Tavon Wilson    2008-11


Pos.    Name    Years


P    Steve Weatherford    2002-05

PK    Derek Dimke    2008-11