C4: Players Want Zook To Coach Bowl Game

It was only fitting that at Tuesday's media day for University of Florida football, only one player showed and that was Ciatrick Fason. Normally a half dozen or so players will show up, take 10-15 minutes for interviews with the gathered media from around the state, then leave.

On this day, though, it was just C4. Coach Ron Zook would do his normal question and answer a while later.

So it was that the one player who you can most associate with Zook was there, a bit defiant, talkative as always, and feeling the need to defend Zook, whose era at Florida is two games, three at the most, from coming to an end.

There is the eternal bond between Fason and Zook, one that will keep them close long after Zook has gone his way and Fason has taken his game to the next level of football. C4 was Zook's first recruit when he came to Florida, originally committed to Coach Steve Spurrier, but the first to buy into the new guy when Zooker became the surprise choice to replace Spurrier in January 2002.

"I thought about decommitting from Florida but he (Zook) flew down to Jacksonville the same day," said Fason. "Coach Zook and me, we've been through a lot together. Coach Spurrier had the chance to coach me but he left. I'm glad Coach Zook had the chance to coach me."

Now Zook is about to leave, fired three weeks ago. He's coaching the final two regular season games, and if the Gators get one win in the last two, they're off to a bowl game, one that Fason says he and his teammates want Zook to coach.

"The last three years he's the only coach who's been yelling and staying on us all the time," said Fason of Zook. "All the players want Coach Zook to coach the bowl game, but we know how things are."

Fason spoke warily of the athletic and university administration which saw fit to can Zook after the loss to Mississippi State. It's obvious from his voice that he doesn't trust the people in charge of the UF athletic program. The thought of a player protest if Zook isn't allowed to coach a bowl is a thought he's had, but he shrugs his shoulders and stares blankly ahead when such an idea is presented.

"We could do that (protest) but it would probably be stupid because we know they won't listen to us," he said. "They didn't trust us enough to listen before, so why should we think they'll do it now? So, we'll just sit back and let them work out whatever they gotta work out because stupid because we know they won't listen to us... so just sit back and let them work whatever out they gotta work out.

"It would hurt a lot if Coach Zook didn't coach us in a bowl game, but like I said, we (the players) never got a say in any decisions so far. When Coach Zook got fired, we didn't have a say in anything."

Fason just shakes his head when he thinks about how Zooker was unceremoniously dropped as Florida's coach at midyear. Coaches don't lose games, he will tell you. Players do.

"If there's one thing to learn from all this is that players get coaches fired and that's what we did in this situation," he said. "We had the talent to beat every team we played, but we just didn't get the job done. That's mostly because of the players.

"No matter who you are or where you're playing you have to go out there and give 110%. Like I've always said, though, it's players that get coaches fired. I'm a real believer in that, especially now."

Of course, the Gators have to win either Saturday against South Carolina or next week in Tallahassee against Florida State to get to a bowl game. To fail to do so would be "embarrassing" as he and the team are well aware that streaks such as no losing seasons since 1979 and bowl games every year since 1991 are on the line.

"To break that streak by not going to a bowl would be really bad," he said. "We are really trying to get that streak to continue. It's for the players in the past, the ones who are here now and the players in the future. It might not be a championship game, but it always means something to get to a bowl game and it always helps out the following year."

Where he will be next year is a bridge he has yet to cross. It is generally speculated that he will declare for the NFL draft since his draft stock is rising on the wings of nine games that have produced 1050 rushing yards, 26 pass receptions and 10 touchdowns. He is the leading rusher in the Southeastern Conference and one of the most electric running backs in all of college football.

"I don't know where I'll be next year," he said. "Next year I haven't thought about yet. Right now I'm just thinking about helping get this team to a bowl game. Northing has crossed my mind about coming back or leaving."

Whether he stays or goes, however, he will always be a Gator at heart, and he's not afraid to say, he'll always be a Zook man.

"I will always be a gator no matter what happens," he said. "I will always be a Gator 100%. If I come back or if I go, I will always be a Gator, and I'll always be proud to say I played for Coach Zook."

ZOOKNOTES: When asked if he would feel a lot of emotion coming out of the tunnel at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the last time Saturday night, Zook just quietly responded, "I'm pretty much dry. There's not a whole lot (of emotion and tears) left there." Asked if he is pleased with the Gators offense, Zook responded, "We've got the number one running back in the SEC. We've got the number one quarterback in the SEC. We've got the number one pass receiver in the SEC. We're first in pass offense. We're first in total offense. We're first in first downs which is very important. We're first in third down conversions. We're second in scoring. We're also the first staff to be fired in the SEC." ... Zook said he would be with the team Friday night rather than with the seniors who will make the usual appearance at Gator Growl. "I would hate for something to happen there to take away from them," he said. "This is their moment." Pressed about his emotions, Zook shook his head and retorted to his questioner, "Just leave it now. You guys got what you want, just let it go."

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