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Florida's Zook fired after two so-so seasons

Published October 25, 2004

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Ron Zook was fired
yesterday after two-plus years and a stack of embarrassments on and
off the field, satisfying a growing groundswell for his ouster that
began the day he replaced Steve Spurrier.

Zook will finish out the season while athletic director Jeremy
Foley and school president Bernie Machen search for another
coach.

The Gators are 20-13 under Zook with four games left —
that’s just 14 losses fewer than Spurrier had in 12
seasons.

Zook’s latest debacle, a 38-31 loss to Mississippi State,
sealed his fate and brought jubilation among those in Gator Nation
who turned www.fireronzook.com into their Internet home page. The
site posted this message yesterday: “It’s happening!
It’s happening! Oh my God it’s happening!”

Spurrier’s return would be welcomed in Gainesville.

“I’ll cross that bridge if it comes to that,”
Spurrier told the Orlando Sentinel. “The thing I’ve
tried to do all this year is not be lingering around, acting like
I’m waiting for another guy’s job. I don’t
believe that’s the right way to do it. But now that he
doesn’t have a job, I guess there will be some discussion.
We’ll see what happens.”

Foley planned to talk with Spurrier soon but said he won’t
discuss the opening with coaches with jobs until after the
season.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and Utah coach Urban Meyer also could
be possibilities. Stoops was Spurrier’s defensive coordinator
for three seasons at Florida, and Machen hired Meyer at Utah
following the 2002 season.

Machen and Foley decided Sunday morning that Zook’s tenure
was over. They informed the coach yesterday morning at
Machen’s home.

Zook agreed to coach the remainder of the season —
something Foley was counting on.

“I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate and
respect these players,” Zook read from a statement.
“They work hard and they do what we ask. I take a lot of
pride in the fact that we leave this program in very good shape,
with a lot of good young talent and good people.

“The future of Gator football is very, very
bright.”

When Spurrier left for the NFL, Foley shockingly hired Zook.

Almost all the concerns about Spurrier’s former defensive
coordinator — that he was in over his head, had never been a
head coach and wasn’t composed enough to manage a game from
the sideline — became reality.

“When the situation starts going downhill, it’s hard
sometimes to push it back up,” Foley said. “I think the
situation got out of control, even for him.”

Just weeks before the Mississippi State loss, reports surfaced
that Zook had a heated confrontation with fraternity members on
campus. Zook initially downplayed his role, saying he went there to
defuse the situation, but Foley later acknowledged that Zook yelled
at students and called the behavior “unacceptable.”

Foley said the same thing about the mounting losses — many
of them late collapses.

Foley said he kept Zook for the rest of the season because it
was “something he deserves.”

“The guy has been here for three years; this is his
football team,” Foley said. “He’s worked
extraordinarily hard. It would be inappropriate for him not to
finish the season. It would be inappropriate for the kids, too. We
didn’t think that would have been right in our
opinion.”