The Coaching Search: Days 8 & 9

There have been another two days of articles and message board postings on the Internet about the coaching search Ron Guenther is undertaking to replace Ron Turner as Illinois' Head Football Coach. scoured the web to find you the tiniest piece of information on the coaching change, then cleaned ourselves off and created this article about what we found in the latest update on the Coaching Search.

The rumors circulating around the Illinois coaching search are more and more focusing on one name, and one name only: Ron Zook. Ron Guenther has appeared to be more at ease when he is out in the public eye, including during Wednesday night's basketball game against Wake Forest. He was also reportedly in his office all day today, so he was not on the road meeting with any candidates. These actions make it seem like he has his man. When it comes to a mass quantity of rumors, I always live by the where there's smoke, there's fire.

The earliest Illinois is able to name a new head football coach being Monday, December 6. There are already rumors of a press conference in Champaign on that day. Combine this with only one majorly rumored candidate, and I think we can figure out what will be said during this press conference if one does occur.

Read the Premium Fan Forum for more detailed rumors regarding Ron Zook and the University of Illinois Head Coach position from's Midwest Recruiting Expert Chris Pool.
Eastern Carolina has decided on their next coach, Skip Holtz. With this being one job Ron Zook was mentioned in association with, the liklihood of him ending up at Illinois increases more and more.
East Carolina hired former South Carolina assistant Skip Holtz to replace coach John Thompson, a source close to the school said Thursday night.

Holtz is the son of Lou Holtz, who retired last week at South Carolina, and was quarterbacks coach on his father's staff. He was offensive coordinator through the 2003 season, when Lou Holtz took on that role.

Here is a collection of stories from the previous two days discussing the interest between Ron Zook and Illinois.

From CBS SportsLine ...
Of all the football coaching vacancies in Division I college football, Illinois' offers Ron Zook the best fit, a source close to Zook said Wednesday.

Zook was dismissed as Florida's coach in October but finished the season with a 7-4 record, including an upset of Florida State in Tallahassee.

The source discounted any possibility of Zook coaching at Notre Dame, making Illinois the most attractive opportunity for the 50-year-old coach with 26 years of coaching experience in the college and NFL ranks.

From the San Jose Mercury News ...
Of all the football coaching vacancies in Division I college football, Illinois' offers Ron Zook the best fit, a source close to Zook said Wednesday.

Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther met with Zook on Wednesday in Gainesville, Fla., the Champaign News-Gazette reported.

From the Edwardsville Intelligencer ...
University of Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther met with departing Florida coach Ron Zook on Tuesday, according to a report in the Gainsville (Fla.) Sun.

From the Chicago Tribune ...
This article talks about how Ron Zook's loyalty to the University of Florida and his players after he was fired with four games left in the regular season may have made him a much more attractive candidate to Ron Guenther during his search for Ron Turner's replacement.
Zook acquiesced to their request that he finish the season, accepting his role as a lame-duck coach to fulfill a promise he made to players and their families while recruiting them, he said.

He handled his dismissal with enough grace and poise to guide his Gators to a 3-1 finish, with an upset of Florida State in the finale.

"The more graceful they leave, the quicker they come back," Chuck Neinas of Neinas Sports Services, that consults in searches for coaches and athletic directors, said Thursday.
The endorsements from Ron Zook also come from former Florida players including Bears' quarterback Rex Grossman
"I can't say enough good things about Ron Zook," said Bears quarterback Rex Grossman, who played one season under Zook and endorsed him for the Illinois job. "After [Steve] Spurrier left for the Redskins, I had a decision to make whether to go pro or not. Coach Zook basically recruited me to stay, and he was one of the big reasons I came back [for my junior year]. He's a great person, a great recruiter, and Illinois would be lucky to get him."
One of the reasons Ron Guenther pointed to the dismissal of Ron Turner was recruiting. According to Tom Lemming, Ron Zook is one of the best recruiters in the country.
But he rivaled, perhaps surpassed, Spurrier in recruiting. analyst Tom Lemming said Zook had two Top 5 recruiting classes nationally and was a building a third in the Top 10. Some of those recruits already are looking at other schools.

"He took over a team depleted of its usual amount of talent and built it up," Lemming said.

The San Jose Mercury News talks about Florida's bid to the Peach Bowl and whether or not Ron Zook would coach the Gators in their bowl game.
Zook's decision likely hinges on other job opportunities. Sources close to Zook told the Orlando Sentinel that he interviewed with Illinois on Tuesday. If he were offered and accepted the position, he likely would be out of his office within a day.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch is also reporting that Illinois and Ron Zook have met to discuss the head coaching position.
Zook is an established recruiter whom many believe could turn around Illinois' recent struggles in attracting top-tier players from this state and the Midwest region. He went 23-14 in his three seasons at Florida. Zook did not respond to messages left at his home.

The earliest Guenther can name a replacement for Turner is Monday. State affirmative action laws require a job be posted for two weeks before a hire is made.

From the Bloomington Pantagraph ...
Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther met with Zook on Wednesday in Gainesville, Fla., the Champaign News-Gazette reported.

It has yet to be decided whether Zook will coach Florida in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Florida accepted the bowl invitation Wednesday, but Zook's decision may hinge on other opportunities.

"He's preparing as if he'll continue to coach the team, but he also has to look out for his career," Peach Bowl president Gary Stokan told the Sentinel.

Pro Football Weekly weighs in on the possibility of Ron Zook at Illinois, and gives him a rather glowing endorsement by comparing him to arguably the best coach in the NFL.
Ron Zook reportedly interviewed with Illinois AD Ron Guenther on Tuesday and should be the front-runner in the race. Zook, an excellent recruiter with Midwestern roots and an NFL pedigree, is known for being a very intense, players' coach. He got a raw deal at Florida, going out in his last game being carried on the shoulders of his players after beating Florida State in Tallahassee, a feat even Steve Spurrier never accomplished. He showed tremendous class finishing the season and working as hard at the end of the season as he did at the beginning and going out with a 3-1 record after being fired. The former walk-on is known for giving his cell phone number out to his players and establishing a great relationship with them. Illinois could not make a better hire. Zook was believed to be in over his head as a first-time head coach, but with three years of head-coaching experience under his belt, he could turn out to be for Illinois what Bill Belichick has been for the Patriots in his second stint as a head coach after being considered a failure in Cleveland. Zook is a journeyman coach with tons of experience, and with Florida buying out the remaining four years on his contract at $450,000 per season, compensation may not be a major issue with an initial contract. With Illinois owing Ron Turner $2.2 million for the remaining two years on his contract, it will likely affect the compensation level for the new coach's first contract.

The Gainesville Sun is reporting that no matter what Ron Zook will be coaching next season.
It would be odd that Mississippi would want to hire a coach who was 0-2 against the Rebels and Zook already is the No. 1 candidate for the Illinois job. Illinois is expected to make Zook a formal offer on Monday.

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