Zook's Dismissal Big Surprise

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles described the mid-season firing as "real surprising" news.

Coach Houston Nutt said he hated to see it for the coaching profession.

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley's decision to terminate third-year coach Ron Zook after the Gators' 38-31 loss at Mississippi State sent shockwaves that reached the western corner of the Southeastern Conference on Monday. Zook and his entire staff will finish the season on Florida's sideline, but Foley will begin his search for a new coach while the Gators prepare for their annual game against rival Georgia.

"All an athletic director can do is take the information, use his experience and make the decision," said Broyles, who returned to the office for the first time in three weeks Monday. "That's what's best for everybody and that's what he has done.

"I know (Foley) was very close to Zook personally. I'd be positive it was a tough decision for him to make."

Zook was hired after the 2001 season to replace legendary coach Steve Spurrier and has compiled a 20-13 record in his career. Florida sustained a few disappointing losses the past two seasons, but the Mississippi State debacle was the final straw.

Florida had success against the Hogs, winning two games under Zook even though each victory featured near collapses. Arkansas trailed by 31 points on Oct. 2, but pulled to within eight points before the Gators held on for a 45-30 win.

"(Zook) just said he was happy we weren't on their schedule anymore," Nutt said about his postgame handshake with Zook. "What's tough is following a guy like Spurrier. Everybody wants excellence and they want it now. I just hate it.

"We know a lot of their coaches and just think of them and their families."

Nutt said the Gators shouldn't have trouble finding capable candidates to replace Zook. The seventh-year Arkansas coach said the high-profile position is supported by fertile recruiting grounds that will make the opening attractive.

Broyles also believes the Gators will play well under Zook the rest of the season.

"I anticipate Florida really playing great from here on out," Broyles said. "If you look at the record of a team once the coach has been replaced, 75 percent of the time the team rallies. Zook is a very popular person, very likable.

"They're going to rally behind him."

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