Does the University of Florida Owe Ron Zook an Apology?
Ron Zook was the unlucky soul who followed Florida Gators legend Steve Spurrier as head coach. That was going to be a tough act to follow. While some coaches, Jimbo Fisher of Florida State comes to mind, are given time to work out from behind the shadow of the previous coach who has a statue of himself outside the stadium, Zook was given his walking paper midway through his third season at UF.
To be fair, Fisher was nearly shown the door at Florida State at about the same juncture. Also to be fair, Fisher turned FSU around in the ACC. That’s a lot easier than accomplishing the feat in the brutal SEC. Also, no Gator fans think Zook was treated unfairly. That is until possibly now.
Zook was in way over his head as the Gators head coach. It was obvious. He was a great recruiter. He could also coach defense. But as a game manager he was terrible, Case in point, Zook was the last coach at UF to lose to the Tennessee Volunteers. He pulled off this feat in back to back seasons. Both games, the end of the first half showed how inept he was.
In the 2003 games in Gainesville, neither team could get their offense going in the first half. With a 3-0 lead and time winding down, the Gators had a first down deep in their own territory. The smart play would have been to run the ball, eat clock and take the lead in to halftime. On first down that is what they did for no gain. But on second down they inexplicably tried to throw a pass. It was incomplete and stopped the clock. This made it impossible for Florida to run out the clock before having to punt the ball. Since they were backed up near their own goal line, the punt only got to about the 50 yard line. Tennessee had time to run one “Hail Mary” before the half expired. Guess what happened.
The next year, in a 28-21 game the Gators got the ball with enough time to get another score. Had they gotten it, they could have gone to halftime with a 35-21 lead and would have the ball to start the second half. Another touchdown could have made it 42-21. Instead, he sat on the ball. Perhaps he had the prior year on his mind, but this game in no way resembled that one. Florida managed to lose on a last second field goal. So there were no tears for him when Jeremy Foley gave him the boot after an embarrassing loss to Mississippi State.
But now, after watching the first three years of Will Muschamp, Zook is owed an apology. Zook’s teams were bad. But they were nowhere near this bad. In fact, they were great compared what Muschamp is putting out there. Let’s compare.
While it is true that Muschamp did have an 11 win season and a BCS Bowl berth last season, something Zook never sniffed, even that team struggled mightily on offense. They barely escaped against teams such as Louisiana Lafayette and a bad Missouri team. This season has been worse. Much worse.
Florida lost to arch rival Miami in the second week of the season following a rather lackluster win over Toledo in the opener.This was with the team at close to full strength. Then in the next game against Tennessee, starting quarterback Jeff Driskel suffered a broken leg and was done for the season. That is when things really went down hill.
Tyler Murphy would come in and rally the team to a win in that game and two more against the three worst teams in the SEC (other than Florida), Kentucky and Arkansas. But that would be it. UF lost to LSU in a game they scored only 6 points, Missouri, Georgia (for the third year in a row), Vanderbilt (for the first time since 1988), South Carolina and the most embarrassing loss in the history of Florida football, Georgia Southern.
And yet, apparently this is not enough to get Muschamp fired. Wait, what? How can this be? You lost to Georgia SOUTHERN. Not Georgia Tech. Georgia SOUTHERN. And not only did they beat you, they beat you without one completed pass. Not one. The tiny FCS school who came in at 4-4 in their conference, which includes heavyweights such as Furman and the Citadel, ran for 475 yards against you. You came in as a DEFENSIVE coach. You came to Florida saying you were going to “stop the run on defense and run the ball on offense.” You did neither on Saturday. How is it you still have a job?
Ron Zook was awful. But he was 2-1 against Georgia. Muschamp is 0-3. He was 1-2 against FSU but even the Noles know one of those games was stolen from him. In fact, that game is the reason we have instant replay today in college football. He beat the ’03 LSU team that Nick Saban coached to a national championship. Had the FSU game not been stolen from him, he would have likely played them again in the SEC Championship game, something Muschamp has not done.
Muschamp is 3-0 against Tennessee, but the UT he faces is nowhere near the UT that Zook was playing. Zook never lost to Vanderbilt and he sure never lost to an FCS team.
So if UF keeps Muschamp after FSU hangs about 70 on them this week, how do you not owe Zook an apology?
Jim Folsom is a regular contributor to http://www.bettingsports.com