Zook Reflects on Past Month

These were supposed to be the slow times for Ron Zook, if such a thing really exists. Instead, the Illinois coach has had to hire assistant coaches, defend how he recruited his signing class and dismiss two players after arrests. How has he dealt with it? How taxing has it been? With time to digest, Zook explained in-depth.

These were supposed to be the slow times for Ron Zook, if such a thing really exists. The most recent recruiting class was in the books, spring ball was weeks away, time for family and rest and relaxation.

Instead, in the past month the Illinois coach has found himself defending the way he landed his outstanding recruiting class, working to hire two assistant football coaches and a director of football operations and having to dismiss two football players after an alleged crime spree that left him practically numb?

How has he dealt with it? How taxing has it been? With time to digest, Zook explained in-depth.

"This one was one of the worst things that have happened since I've been a head coach," Zook said of the alleged crimes and ensuing arrests of junior wide receivers Derrick McPhearson and Jody Ellis. "Just horrible. And I never would have expected. Not from those two kids. But not from any of our kids. Just wouldn't have expected it."

An angry Zook was very swift in his decision to dismiss the two players after the two were arrested and charged with possession of stolen goods among other charges. He has long said that his player would act the right way and they wouldn't be part of the team.

He reiterated this in dismissing the players, much like he did Marcus Mason for accepting money from a booster and Kisan Flakes for drug charges. This from a coach once considered not a good disciplinarian, an assertion that perhaps rankles Zook more than any other.

"In this business, people are going to sometimes say or write things you don't like, it comes with the territory," Zook said. "But of all the things written about me, that one probably bothers me the most. Because I just don't think it's true.

"In my five years as a head coach, I don't think we've had any significant infraction, other than fights, in which we didn't dismiss the players. Now I'm not saying dismissing the players is always the right answer. It should be handled case by case. But we are not going to let players embarrass this university. I know I keep saying it. But we are not. If they do, they won't be here."

As tough a stand as Zook tends to take on matters like this, this one left a mark. He shudders when talking about the conversation with Ellis' mother, who was so sad, so distraught and so apologetic. "This was not your fault," Zook told her.

And he knew McPhearson a long time, appreciating the fact that Derrick followed him to Illinois after earlier choosing Florida when Zook was the coach there. But that didn't exonerate him of this.

"I told Derrick's father that if he could learn from this and get beyond it, I would help him if I could," Zook said. "But it won't be here. It can't be."

Meanwhile, Zook carries on, still smarting a bit from having to defend his outstanding recruiting class, even though he has not been accused of wrongdoing any time in his 25-plus year college coaching career. But appreciative of the fact that most have figured out all he and his assistants were guilty of during the recruiting process was real hard work.

"Hopefully, if you work hard, and things work out well because you worked hard, people will figure that out," he said.

So now it's off to football only matters. Zook already has hired Eric Woolford to coach his offensive line and, by the time spring football begins at the end of the month, will have hired a new wide receivers coach and a director of football operations, one of the most important jobs on a college football team.

"I'm looking forward to coaching ball," Zook said. "I think we all are."

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