As many of you know I am a graduate of the University of Illinois, a great educational institution which happens to have the distinction of having more Noble Laureates on the faculty than another University. My dear departed father and my son also share the honor of being graduates of that great establishment.
As much I love my alma mater, the loss yesterday to the Ohio State Buckeyes was about the last straw for an arm-chair football fan as far back as I can remember. We Illini fans have suffered through many losing seasons since back in the glory days of 1951. I thought we were on our way to reliving those happy days this year when we went 6-0…until yesterday.
Every single fan in Memorial Stadium and the vast television audience knew Ohio State would throw a touch-down pass late in the 4th quarter except our coach Ron Zook. OSU did…and scored a touchdown assuring an upset victory. I don’t like to see anyone fired, but Zook has been head coach at Illinois since 2005 and experienced sub-standard performances, with the exception of this year.
Along the way he has made many head scratching calls in critical situations, including Saturday’s last Illinois red zone possession, down by 10 points, 4th down and 2, electing to go for the TD rather than the field goal that they would also need.
Zook’s salary is $1.5 million per year and he also receives additional compensation (TV show, endorsements, etc.). The subject of football coaches’ salaries will be the subject of a commentary at another time. Perhaps the U of I Athletic Director, who is over-paid too, should begin to think of life beyond Zook and a coach who can deliver a team that is as least consistently competitive.
Yes, they are now 6-1, but remember those six wins were against only one ranked team (currently #16 Arizona State) and the remaining five were Arkansas State, South Dakota State, Western Michigan, and two Big Ten opponents – Northwestern and Indiana.
Zook is known as a great recruiter, but has a record of not winning big games. Who knows what will happen over the remainder of the season? But it might be the right time to develop a short list of coaches if things really go south.