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Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley made what has to rank as the most shocking hiring decision in recent years in the Southeastern Conference a couple of days ago.
Ron Zook? Too bad for Bob Petrino he wasn't a friend of Foley's. Instead of being offensive coordinator at Auburn he might be the head coach at perhaps the nation's most privileged program.
Zook was defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, the same Saints that gave up 160 points in their last four games this season. What qualified him to become head coach at Florida? He's a Florida graduate who coached on Spurrier's staff a few years back and he's a close friend of Foley's. Apparently, being a friend of Foley's was the foremost requirement. Two other friends--Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops and Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan--turned him down. Foley knew Zook wouldn't turn him down. That's the same Ron Zook who was demoted from defensive coordinator to special teams coach by Spurrier.
Some have compared Foley's hiring of Zook to his hiring of Billy Donovan to coach the basketball team. There really is no comparison. Donovan was one of the hottest young coaches in the country. Florida basketball was nowhere near the level of Florida football. Florida's football program has more money, more prestige, more of everything than any other in the SEC. Foley could probably have hired Rick Nueheisel from Washington. He probably could have hired John Gruden from the Oakland Raiders.
Put yourself in the position of a high school recruit. You've been considering going to Florida, excited about the prospect of playing for Spurrier. Suddenly, Spurrier is gone and he's replaced by a coach you probably have never even heard of. It's no coincidence that the recruiting battle for Hewitt-Trussville quarterback Brandon Cox ended just a few days later when he announced he would sign with Auburn.
It won't take a great coach to win at Florida. But just winning isn't enough anymore. Spurrier won six SEC championships and a national championship in his 12 seasons. Fans who have bought into the program and have helped make it a national powerhouse for the first time in school history will want more of the same. Maybe Foley knows something the rest of us don't. Maybe Zook really is the answer. But it's safe to say that Florida looks a lot less fearsome to its opponents in the SEC than it did a week ago.
Some basketball teams have a knack for doing whatever it takes to win. The SEC season is still young, but Auburn's doesn't appear to be one of those. So far, the Tigers seem to have a knack for doing what it takes to lose.
They led Arkansas 34-22 in the first half, only to give up a 20-3 run in the final five minutes on the way to an 83-77 loss. It was even worse Wednesday night. After racing out to a 27-7 lead, Auburn quickly let Ole Miss go off on a 14-0 run to get back into the game in Oxford. The result was another loss.
And now comes Alabama. It will be as close to a must win as you'll ever find for Auburn when the 14th-ranked Crimson Tide comes to Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum on Saturday. And the question has to be asked if Auburn is good enough to pull it off. One can only imagine how different things might be if point guard Jamison Brewer had not left early for the NBA and center Kyle Davis not gone out with bone chips in his elbow. But they did, and Tiger coach Cliff Ellis is left to make do with what he has. A team once seemed destined to be a championship contender could struggle now just to get into the NIT.
Ellis must feel snakebit. Last season he lost Mack McGadney, who was leading the team in scoring and rebounding, to a knee injury. Then Brewer leaves unexpectedly, too late for Auburn coaches to recruiting a replacement. Then Davis goes down.
There is plenty of young talent on Auburn's basketball team, enough to make the future look very bright. It's not time to write off this season yet. But if the Tigers go 0-2 at home, it'll be awfully hard to recover.
Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville is close to making a decision on his new offensive coordinator. Look for it to come from a list that includes Pittsburgh's Paul Rhoads, Central Florida's Gene Chizik, Oklahoma's Brent Venables and Southern Mississippi's Tyrone Nix.
All are current coordinators with excellent credentials and all are relatively young.
Deandre Green is gone, or soon will be. Green, a wide receiver with immense promise, just couldn't walk the line enough to remain at Auburn.
Green, who will probably transfer to Murray State, was suspended for the Peach Bowl for missing a team meeting. It was finally too much for Tuberville. Green was told he needed to look elsewhere to finish his college football career. Chances are he'll end up at Murray State, where former Auburn assistant Joe Panunnzio is head coach.
Maybe he'll turn things around and play in the NFL one day. I hope he does.