Ron Zook's tumultuous time at Illinois has created a couple memes about his coaching ability.
The most well known meme says that Zook is just a recruiter, a hand-shaking, baby-kissing wonder when it comes to wooing 18 year old athletes, but an abject failure at developing talent.
The second meme suggests that Zook is a micromanaging lunk when it comes to in-game coaching. Oblivious to his teams needs or limitations, Zook charges his players into battle without a solid gameplan or the ability to make halftime adjustments. Sort of like the Battle of the Somme if it was played out on a college football field in the Midwest.
The problem with these overused talking points? They're mostly true. Plus, they've put Illinois in a position for an unsuccessful 2010 season and more coaching upheaval.
Who's My Coach?
The turnover on the Illinois sidelines in 2010 is nothing new in Champaign-Urbana. Offensive coaches are replaced or leave when their star rise. Even the prospect of a new Defensive Coordinator in Vic Koenning makes Hail to the Orange skeptical:
I am a bit reserved about how excited I should be over this hiring. For one, Koenning will not be bringing in all of his own assistants apparently and I have no idea how much of a free hand he will have in running the defense. Zook was essentially the DC last year, with his two closest assistants basically carrying out his system. Those two assistants are still here, but will supposedly now be answering to Koenning, who in turn will be answering to Zook.
Your head coach was the DC? Where's the trust? Where are the cohesive team units? Apparently not on a Ron Zook coached team. Some more Illini message board fun...
Zook's biggest problem is he micormanages his assistants and though he recruits well, looks for the most skilled players rather than good players that can fill holes on his team (ie: offensive line,defenive line). Its like having Redskins owner Dan Schneider as a coach. He does not seem to recruit to the weaknesses of his teams.
What the Hell is My Coach Doing?
No one will accuse Zook of being a good game manager. Missouri wouldn't allow Juice Williams to run during their 2009 matchup, so what did Zook do? Nothing; Juice wallowed in the pocket, skipping mid-range passes to covered receivers. What to do when Juice's effectiveness was dimmed by a muddled gameplan and his own throwing limitations? Put in Eddie McGee. Yank Eddie McGee for Juice. Yank Juice to give frosh Jacob Charest experience. Yank Charest and then play musical quarterbacks the rest of the year.
So Where Do We Go?
Zook will be on campus and employed through this year, barring a midseason buyout in the 5-7 million dollar range. Although he somehow pulled a contract extension through the 2014 season, the Zook pink slip will be printed before that time with another embarrassingly sloppy season like 2009. As if to accuentuate my point, HTTO lays out some nice reasons for firing Zook asap here.
But herein lies the magic of the Zook. With expectations low and a killer schedule looming, Zook can save the school some buyout money and even save his job just by assembling an improved, hard-working team...wins and bowls be damned. Look, he can say, we're on the up and up, I'm proving I can develop some of that talent I recruit!
Damned with him, damned to a new coach search without him. And that's why the Illini's Achilles Heel is their coaching.
MONDAY: Spring Field Guide
TUESDAY: Illinois' Achilles Heel - The Coaching
WEDNESDAY: Illinois' Greatest Strength
THURSDAY: MVP Profile
FRIDAY: Keeping the Enemy Close - Rival Blogger Interview
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