Ron Zook Audio Story (click to listen)
A successful University of Florida football coach resigns after bringing a national championship and a Heisman trophy winner to Gainesville. The man who replaces him has a record over three years that many teams would see as a successful run, but a very loud number of fans demand that coach be fired for not meeting expectations.
This drama may remind Florida fans of Will Muschamp’s first three years as head coach of the Gators, but this same script played out 10 years ago during the Ron Zook Era of Florida football.
Zook was fired in 2004 from his head coaching job for the Gator football team. He did go on to be the head coach for the University of Illinois in 2005 through 2011 with a record of 34-51. He now works two jobs; the first is with Gateway Bank in Ocala as a Business Development Officer, and he also serves as a college football analyst with CBS Sports.
“I probably know more about what’s going on with college football now than I did when I was coaching because I have to deal with everybody,” he said about his analyst gig.
While a fair number of former coaches become analysts, a business development officer would appear to be a far cry from roaming the sidelines. But, it turns out that the job is a lot like coaching a college football team.
“I was involved in the beginning of the bank as a shareholder,” he said. “A good friend of mine is the CEO, and he talked me into coming to work for him. It’s a lot like recruiting, with a different mentality, but there are a lot of similarities and parallels with coaching.”
Zook’s experience in coaching has given him the opportunity to take on positions in all three major levels of football. He started coaching as a defensive backs coach for Orrville High School in Ohio during the 70’s. He served six years as an assistant in the NFL on three teams (the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints) from 1996-2001 and has been involved with college football (Murray State, Cincinnati, Kansas, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Florida and Illinois) in some capacity for a total of 28 years.
“I was very, very fortunate in all three levels,” he said. “I enjoyed high school football, although teaching biology and chemistry was probably the hardest job I’ve ever had. Coaching college is exciting. The situations that I was in in the NFL were great. Guys in the NFL, if you know what you’re talking about, they’re going to try to do everything they can do to get what you want done.”
The two jobs he has now keep him busy, but he hasn’t ruled out coaching again in the future. Zook doesn’t have a dream school or team, but the allure of having an impact on people’s lives is what draws him in.
“Developing people while coaching has taught me more about life than anything,” Zook said, “and I think a lot of people who played and coached football would say the same thing.”
While coaches are judged based on wins and losses and the most successful ones are glorified by both the media and fans, Zook is clear why coaching is more to him than just X’s and O’s. With an overall record as a head coach that is under .500, a simple conversation with him reveals that winning and losing is actually only a small part of the job for a man who still keeps in touch with many of his former players.