Zook Hunting For Mike Locksley Replacement

With offensive coordinator Mike Locksley off to seek fame and fortune in New Mexico, Illinois head coach Ron Zook has the task of finding an adequate replacement. With a talented senior quarterback and improving talent across the board, it is imperative to find someone who can match or improve on the outstanding job Locksley did at Illinois.

Illinois coach Ron Zook praised Mike Locksley in Tuesday's press conference.

"I'm disappointed on one side as me and Locksley were very close. But I'm proud of him and happy for him. I think it's a great opportunity for him. I don't think there's any question he's ready for the next step.

"The thing we talked about when he came here was to have the opportunity to become a head football coach. He's done a great job here, and he'll do a great job in New Mexico."

While Zook has some people in mind to replace Locksley, he is open to all who wish to apply for the job. He is convinced he will find an outstanding person for the job.

"Right now, it's amazing the number of people who want this job. That makes me feel good because of the way we're perceived out there. There's a lot of people who are interested in this job, which means they see we've made progress. We have a ways to go, but we're primed to take off. The people who have contacted me or had people contact me, it makes you feel pretty good.

"Of course, we've heard from the guys we expect to hear from. But there are a lot of guys across the country who have a strong interest in the job, which makes me feel good. People do know where the University of Illinois is, they realize we've made some great strides, and we're in a position to continue to grow."

Zook is considering both men within his coaching staff and top coaches all over the country. The key is finding someone who fits in well with the system Illinois runs and is compatible with the other staff members and players.

"The thing we've got to do is get the best fit. That's what we do. Whether we stay in or go out, the number one thing is the best fit because we're gonna keep on doing the things we've done."

Locksley was highly respected by the Illinois team, and his loss will be felt. Mike was especially close with quarterback Juice Williams, who has grown immensely in his three years under his tutelage. Coach Zook said he will make sure the transition to a replacement will go smoothly.

"(Juice) understands. Like I was telling the football team last night, none of us likes to see him leave. My wife cried for an hour Sunday night. This is kind of what the profession's all about. You do everything you can do to help somebody reach their goals. People move on. We're gonna bring somebody in here who's gonna be just as close to Juice. That's what we do, that's where we are. We'll continue right on."

Coach Locksley is known as an outstanding recruiter, and he has brought in some top players including superstar Arrelious Benn and a number of other athletes from the talent-rich Washington D. C./Maryland area. Zook was asked whether he thought Locksley leaving would dry up recruiting there.

"That area (D. C.) has been good for us because it's Locks' home, and he knows that area. If you go back and look, we kind of recruit friends and family.

"Dan Disch has done a great job in North Florida. Wolfie (Eric Wolford) has done a great job in Ohio. Woody (Mike Woodford) is getting down to where we'll be able to make some big strides in the Cincinnati area. Just as an example, you bring somebody in from Texas, and all of a sudden you begin to have connections in Texas.

"I've built up alot of contacts in D. C.. And the guys in that area see the young guys coming in here doing well in school, being happy, and playing. That's what develops a pipeline. Locks has done a great job, there's no question. But we're still gonna have an opportunity to go in there and recruit and do the things we've done."

Zook has no timeline for finding a replacement. The top priority is finding the best fit.

"We don't play for awhile, so I'm not worried about that. The important thing to me is to get the right guy. How the players think about him, the chemistry, and all those things are important. Everybody understands we've got a pretty good team coming back. Now, we've got to do everything we can to get everybody playing their best."

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