Monday, October 14, 2002

A terrible football weekend...

From the OrlandoSentinel.com and Mike Bianchi:

The day Steve Spurrier resigned at Florida, he called me from his waterfront home on Crescent Beach and said, "It's time to let somebody else captain this big ol' battleship that is Gator football."

Little did he know the Gators would begin playing like Gilligan was at the wheel.

Just sit right back, and you'll hear a tale . . .

What in the name of Gerry Faust has Ron Zook done to Spurrier's program? In eight weeks, the Mona Lisa has been transformed into Dogs Playing Poker. Rex Grossman has turned into Gross Rexman. The revved-up Swamp is a dried-up ditch. And the Florida Gators might as well be Fort Valley State.

There is no excuse for what is going on in Gainesville, no explanation. It's unbelievable and unacceptable. It's an absolute embarrassment what this program has become in half a season. Zook must be held accountable. Athletic Director Jeremy Foley must be held accountable.

Hoops season starts soon, and Foley always said he wanted to turn Florida into a basketball school. Well, he may have done it with two key hires: Billy Donovan . . . and Ron Zook.

It's not good when guys such as me use your name and your school for a punch line, but that's what's beginning to happen with Zook and UF. It's become so ugly in the aftermath of Saturday's 36-7 home loss to LSU that the Web site FireRonZook.com actually shut down from too many hits. The poor Web master must sound like Captain Kirk demanding more power: "Scottie, I need warp speed in three minutes, or we're all dead!"

And speaking of warp speed, that's how fast UF has gone from one of the nation's top five programs to "others receiving votes." That's how fast Grossman has gone from being the best quarterback in the country to being a collegiate Jon Kitna. That's how fast Florida has gone from a program that aspired to playing for a national title to one that now aspires to a winning record and is checking the holiday forecast for Shreveport.

The Gators have done the impossible: They somehow have managed to make Florida State fans feel good about having two losses.

It took Spurrier 12 years to build it, and it's come crumbling down in two months. Spurrier coached 129 games at UF before losing to an unranked team. Zook did it in Game 6. It took Spurrier 10 years to lose two home games in a season. Zook has managed to do it in five weeks by a combined score of 77-23.

The Gators have seven points in the past six quarters. They've been outscored 86-29 in the third quarter this season. So much for halftime adjustments.

And if Tennessee could execute a quarterback-center exchange and Kentucky had managed to score one more special teams touchdown, the Gators might be winless in the Southeastern Conference.

During UF games, the TV camera often pans to Zook, who stands on the sideline, jotting reminders to himself on a little notepad. You wonder what notations he made Saturday night:

1. See whether Ed Zaunbrecher really is in the press box, or is he calling plays from the Purple Porpoise?

2. Tell Jeremy Foley how young he looks for a 50-year-old man.

3. Buy sword and fall on it.

If this ineptitude continues, Zook will go down as the worst personnel move since Shemp replaced Curly in The Three Stooges. When Foley hired Zook, UF fans were willing to believe there was a method to the madness, but so far, all they've seen is the madness -- and the badness.

The scary thing is, it could get worse before it gets better. There are no gimmes left on UF's schedule (not even Vandy), and the Gators are looking at five losses, maybe six. And next year, because of departing talent, it might be even uglier.

Zook desperately needed to have a good first season -- at least a decent season -- to prove to UF fans, UF critics and, most important, UF recruits that he isn't in over his head. There seems to be this misconception that because Zook is a hard worker and a tireless recruiter that he automatically will lure better talent than Spurrier. That's inane. Spurrier didn't have to recruit the top players; they often recruited him. Do you think Grossman would have come knocking at Zook's office door, as he did Spurrier's three years ago when he was looking for a place to play quarterback?

Foley, who has hired and fired many employees over the past few years, has a philosophy when dealing with coaching changes. He often says, "What should be done eventually must be done immediately." In other words, if it becomes obvious things aren't going in the right direction, it's best to fire the coach now rather than wait.

Even though it's apparent things are going in the absolute wrong direction at the moment, it would be unfair to ask Foley to fire Zook after seven games. It's not unfair to ask this: Why did Foley hire Zook in the first place?

There were no glowing credentials, no real reason to believe Zook was ready for one of the top coaching jobs in football. I said it then, and I'll say it now: Foley should have at least put in a phone call to proven coaches such as Jon Gruden or Oregon's Mike Bellotti before making such a crucial hire.

Foley made the miscalculation that so many ADs at big-time universities make: They believe the program can carry the coach. They think money, resources and facilities are the keys to success.

They assume any hard-working Joe put in the position of coach at a program such as UF can be successful.

There was another established SEC powerhouse a few years ago that thought it could replace a legend with some young, hard-working guy who never had been a head coach but had the reputation for being a dogged recruiter. That school was Georgia, and the coach's name was Ray Goff.

Let us not forget that Florida football did not make Steve Spurrier; Steve Spurrier made Florida football. And then Foley handed the wheel of the ol' battleship to Ron Zook.

Unfortunately, it has taken but seven games for Captain Zook to reach this perilous point.