There was a comment earlier this week that, at OTE, we just walk around saying "LOL Ron Zook LOL," essentially saying we don't take a more nuanced look at Zook and the Illinois program. Some truth to it, I would agree, but the Illini have the tendency to be a pretty easy team to figure out. Take a look at the last few years -
2007 - Rose Bowl! Rejoice! Young Quarterback!
2008 - High expectations, playmakers...Tremendous disappointment, lack of in-game management, misuse of Juice Williams, no bowl game.
2009 - QB Carousel, Zook takes his place on the hot seat, 3-9 record that prompted this comment from a reader when I gave Zook a "D" grade:
I just can’t understand the Zooker getting a passing grade. He was even a failure at his trademark recruiting this year. His team regressed in every possible aspect of the game. If there was ever a coaching job that deserved an F grade this was it.
2010 - Low low low expectations (the OTE staff's picks, averaged out, would have predicted 4-8), but thanks to a simpler offensive philosophy and some great defensive performances, the Illini picked up a winning season and a (gasp) bowl win.
My point? We do pay attention to the Zookie Monster here at OTE, but his recent coaching jobs are so pronounced in their horrifying nature or surprising success that it's hard to take a nuanced look at those years. I think everyone would agree that Zook and his coordinators did a great job in 2010. The playcalling, in the past at times idiotic and seemingly unrelated to players on the field, played to the strengths of the offense. The downfield passing game, a facet pushed far too much in the past few years with uneven results, was tossed aside for more rollouts and misdirection. Even the defense, which had serious holes, was able to string together a couple of impressive performances against PSU and Baylor.
Zook has boom or busted consistently, but every time he booms, the complaints simmer down right along with the temperature of his coaching seat. If he continues this pattern, he could be coaching for years at Illinois! Think how much grace TWO surprisingly good years in a row would get Zook! And 2011 seems to be perfect for that - sure the offense is expected to be decent, but the defense lost most of its playmakers from a unit that depended heavily on them, so we're probably only expecting 6 wins, maybe 7 because the schedule is cake.
Should Illinois fans be more discerning, more pissy about Zook's inability to stabilize the program? Maybe they all sense that he's on the right track, supported by solid coordinators and a talented young quarterback..and that he couldn't possibly mismanage things like he did in 08-09. So however many LOL Zook LOL statements you dole out/suffer through this offseason, just know Big Ron is going to be around Champaign-Urbana for awhile.