From the day he was hired, there was a thinly veiled threat hanging over Ron Zook’s head at Florida. It was always there, even at the press conference announcing his hiring. When Athletic Director Jeremy Foley made his initial remarks that day, the first questions didn’t have anything to do with Zook. They were all about why he didn’t hire Bob Stoops or Mike Shanahan. Foley said something to the effect that “this is the right guy, and he’ll prove it.” Not an overwhelming endorsement, but a vote of confidence; with that veiled threat.
And the threat constantly whispered to Zook, “You weren’t the first choice, you have to prove yourself. And if you don’t you’re out of here.” The threat never went away, even after big wins, and it magnified after losses. When he won, he didn’t win big enough. When he lost, it was the coach’s fault, not the player’s. “He can really recruit,” was the way Gator fans praised their coach. When he won, like against LSU and Georgia last year, it was because the players stepped up.
So Ron Zook was always in a lose-lose situation. He had to win, and win big to feed the monster that Gator fans have become. He also had the bad fortune of following Steve Spurrier at Florida’s helm. “I’m not the ball coach,” Zook said as he addressed the ‘I’m not Spurrier’ situation at his opening press conference. “I’m my own man.”
When Zook was hired, Frank Frangie had me on his show to talk about how Zook would fair as the Gators new head coach. “Gator fans need style points,” I told Frank that day. “They want to win games 47-3, not 24-21. Georgia fans are perfectly happy to win 10-9, but Florida fans won’t stand for it. They’re a little spoiled and want things just so.” Frank called me that night to say he thought I was a little harsh (Frank is a Florida grad and a long time friend of Zook) but he has since changed his mind. “You’re right,” he told me Sunday night. “It’s not the record, but how you win the games that Gator fans are interested in.”
It’s pretty obvious that Zook lost the confidence of even his most loyal fans after the loss to Mississippi State, but it’s not one loss that gets you fired. It’s cumulative. He wasn’t winning big enough; he wasn’t rubbing the opponents’ nose in it. Those 59 years of being the SEC’s doormat left Gator fans wanting revenge, vigilante style. Once the big boosters say they’re not contributing any more money until there’s a new head coach, soon there will be a new head coach.
Zook’s actions in the whole fraternity incident certainly played a role in his demise as well. If you’re a nut and winning, it can be written off to being “competitive.” If you’re a nut and losing, then well, you’re just a nut. Be assured, this wasn’t just a Jeremy Foley decision either. The administration from the President on down was involved. Florida views themselves as a sort of “Ivy League School of the South” these days, and there’s a certain amount of decorum they’re expecting.
Gator fans will have to ask themselves a pretty hard question very soon: What will make them happy? Everybody says “That guy from Utah” (Urban Meyer) but do the Gator faithful really want a guy from Utah as their head coach? Of course they say “That guy from Utah” right after they mumble something about Spurrier.
That’s what’s missing!
Spurrier’s not the head coach!
And he’s available!
So like the bat light over the big city, the Gator light is out over Gainesville, seeing if Spurrier will answer the call. He’s been out three years, it didn’t work in the NFL in Washington, he still has his place in Crescent Beach, and, well, he’s Spurrier! When it comes to picking their head coach, Gators are pretty myopic. It’s almost Crimson Tide-esque with anybody and Bear Bryant.
Maybe Urban Meyer is the right guy. They scored 63 points against UNLV and opened the game with a kickoff return reverse pitch for a touchdown. Either way, whoever the next coach at Florida is will be inheriting a very good and young team.
Steve, are you listening?