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Ron Zook
Zook in May 2008
Title Head coach
College Illinois
Sport Football
Conference Big Ten
Team record 21–39 (.350)
Born April 28, 1954 (1954-04-28) (age 55)
Place of birth Loudonville, Ohio
Career highlights
Overall 44–53 (.454)
Bowls 0–3 (.000)
Coaching stats
College Football DataWarehouse
1 SEC Eastern Division Title (2003)
Big Ten Coach of the Year (2007)
Playing career
1973–1975 Miami University
Position Defensive back
Coaching career (HC unless noted)













Murray State
(defensive coordinator)
(defensive coordinator)
Virginia Tech
(assistant head coach-defense)
Ohio State
(defensive coordinator/ secondary)
(special teams coordinator)
(associate head coach/special teams coordinator/safeties)
Pittsburgh Steelers
(special teams coach)
Kansas City Chiefs
New Orleans Saints
(defensive coordinator)
(head coach)
(head coach)

Ron Zook (born April 28, 1954) is an American football coach and former player. Zook previously served as the head coach at the University of Florida, and is the current head coach at the University of Illinois.


Early career

Ron Zook was born in Loudonville, Ohio in 1954. He played college football as a defensive back for Miami University, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1976. Zook immediately began coaching football, beginning at Orrville High School in Orrville, Ohio in 1976. In 1978, Zook moved to coaching college football, beginning at Murray State University. Through the 1980s, Zook held coaching positions at a number of schools, including Cincinnati, Kansas, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, and Ohio State University.

Beginning in 1991, Zook served as defensive coordinator for three seasons at the University of Florida under head coach Steve Spurrier. After the 1993 season, Spurrier reassigned Zook to be the special teams coordinator, a move considered by many to be a demotion. Nonetheless, in 1995, Spurrier added the title of associate head coach to Zook's position.

In 1996, Spurrier promoted Zook back to defensive coordinator following the departure of Bobby Pruett, but Zook left Florida to coach in the NFL. Zook served three seasons as special teams coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and was the defensive backs coach for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1999. In the 2000 and 2001 seasons, Zook was the defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints.

Head coaching career

University of Florida

In January 2002 Spurrier resigned to become the head coach of the Washington Redskins of the NFL, and Florida hired Zook as his replacement. In twelve seasons, Spurrier took the program to unprecedented success, including six SEC titles and a national championship in 1996. Spurrier's Gators became a virtual fixture in the top ten. Expectations were high, and Zook's hiring was not popular with followers of Florida football. One fan started a website ( within a day of Zook's hiring that gained national media attention. Many fraternity houses hung banners from week to week either praising Zook or calling for his firing. Zook was well known for his quirky expressions ("If you sleep five hours really fast it feels like eight."), hard, honest work, and various expressions that evolved from his name ("Zook'em" or "The Zooker").

Zook was head coach at Florida for three seasons. The Gators compiled records of 8–5 (2002), 8–5 (2003) and 7–4 (2004). While he achieved some success, Zook's record fell well short of what Florida fans had come to expect. In his three seasons the Gators lost more games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium than in twelve seasons under Spurrier. Many of the losses were fourth quarter comebacks by the opposition, causing many fans to question the prevent defense which was employed. Zook did not beat a ranked opponent at home during his time at Florida. Zook was fired before the end of the 2004 season after a 38–31 road loss to the Mississippi State Bulldogs (1–5 prior to the game, including a home loss to Division I-AA Maine). The game was lost on a thirty-seven yard touchdown run by Jerious Norwood in the final minute. Zook finished the regular season, but he did not coach the Gators in the Peach Bowl because he had already accepted the head coach's job at Illinois. Defensive coordinator Charlie Strong coached the Gators in the Peach Bowl. Zook's successor, Urban Meyer, won a national title in 2006 largely with Zook's players.

Though not highly regarded by Gator fans, Zook did have some accomplishments. He is the only coach to have beaten thirteen-win teams in back-to-back seasons and their only losses in their respective seasons (Georgia in 2002 and LSU in 2003). He beat three top-eleven teams in succession, all on the road (LSU, Arkansas and Georgia) in 2003. In his final game as head coach he defeated the Florida State Seminoles at Tallahassee, something Steve Spurrier never did. This victory occurred on the night FSU dedicated Bobby Bowden Field, leading Gator fans to refer to it as Ron Zook Field. Zook had winning records against SEC foes Georgia (2–1) and Auburn (1–0). Zook was a tireless recruiter who brought a great deal of talent to Florida during his tenure as head coach. Following the Gators' victory over Ohio State in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game, Urban Meyer praised Zook for recruiting the large class of seniors who played the game. Twenty-two of twenty-four starters were Zook's recruits.

University of Illinois

In 2005, the University of Illinois hired Zook to replace Ron Turner as the head coach of the Illinois Fighting Illini football team. Zook inherited a program which had become a disaster since winning the Big Ten championship in 2001, finishing 1–11 in 2003 and 3–8 in 2004, including Big Ten records of 0–8 and 1–7, respectively. In Zook's inaugural season of 2005, Illinois finished with an overall record of 2–9, and a record of 0–8 in Big Ten games.

Despite his team's past struggles, Zook has improved the ability of Illinois to recruit top football talent. According to one source, the 2006 recruiting class was one of the 30 best in college football [1]. Despite this, they finished the 2006 season 1–7 in the conference and 2-10 overall. While the record did not improve, the play on the field did as the Illini nearly upset top ranked Ohio State in Champaign before losing 17–10. Additionally, the Illini played well against Iowa, Wisconsin, and Penn State (they lost 63–10 the year before; Penn State led 56–3 at halftime) but ended up losing close games (they were down 15–12 at Penn State until Penn State broke open the close game to make it 26–12).

The 2006 recruiting class included Isiah "Juice" Williams of Chicago Vocational High School, considered to be one of the top quarterback recruits in the country.[1] In late 2006, Zook signed Arrelious Benn, one of the top wide receiver prospects in the 2007 class.[2][3] More recently, Zook has also won over Simeon High School standout Martez Wilson[4][5] along with Florida prospect D'Angelo McCray.[6] This class is one of Illinois' best in recent memory, being rated within the top 25 nationally by some experts.[7]

Zook's recruiting success finally began to pay dividends during the 2007 season. After losing a close game on neutral turf to a Missouri squad which would go on to be ranked as high as #1, the Illini ran off five straight wins, including back-to-back home wins over Penn State and Wisconsin. Illinois' 5–1 start gave them a #18 ranking in the AP poll. This was Illinois' first ranking in the AP poll since the end of the 2001 season. However, the ranking would prove to be short lived after consecutive losses to Iowa and Michigan. A homecoming win over Ball State gave the Illini bowl eligibility and a blowout win at Minnesota all but assured Zook's first bowl appearance as coach of the Illini. On November 10th, the then-unranked Illini defeated #1-ranked Ohio State in Columbus, ending the Buckeyes' 28 game home winning streak. The Illini finished the 2007 regular season by defeating Northwestern to finish 9–3 overall, 6–2 in the Big 10. Because Big Ten champion Ohio State played in the BCS National Championship game, Illinois received a bid to play in the Rose Bowl as the second ranked team in the Big Ten. Their improvement of 7 wins over the 2006 season was the largest such increase of any Division I team. His success earned him a contract extension in October 2007, which pays him approximately $1.5 million through the 2013 season.[8] Zook's success on recruiting trail has continued as well, with Illinois currently having the #17 recruiting class in 2008 according to[9]

On November 20, 2007, Ron Zook was selected as the Big Ten Coach of the Year.[10] Zook also was awarded the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award following the 2007 season.[11]

Zook's enthusiasm on and off the field has spread to the long dormant Illinois football fanbase, evidenced by four sellouts in the 2007 season. Zook's Illini team runs a "Veer Option" offense. Additionally, on extra points, they employ a swinging gate play.

Record as head football coach

Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl Coaches# AP°
Florida Gators (Southeastern Conference) (2002–2004)
2002 Florida 8–5 6–2 2nd (East) L Outback 24th
2003 Florida 8–5 6–2 T-1st (East) L Outback 25th 24th
2004 Florida 7–4* 4–4 3rd (East) _* 25th
Florida: 23–14 16–8
Illinois Fighting Illini (Big Ten Conference) (2005–present)
2005 Illinois 2–9 0–8 11th
2006 Illinois 2–10 1–7 10th
2007 Illinois 9–4 6–2 2nd L Rose 18th 20th
2008 Illinois 5–7 3–5 8th
2009 Illinois 3–9 2–6 9th
Illinois: 21–39 12–28
Total: 44–53
      National Championship         Conference Title         Conference Division Title
Indicates BCS bowl game. #Rankings from final Coaches Poll.
°Rankings from final AP Poll.

* Zook left for Illinois after the regular season; defensive coordinator Charlie Strong coached the Gators in the Peach Bowl. Florida credits the regular season to Zook and the Peach Bowl to Strong.

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Zaven Yaralian
New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator
2000 – 2001
Succeeded by
Rick Venturi
Preceded by
Steve Spurrier
University of Florida Head Football Coach
2001 – 2004
Succeeded by
Charlie Strong
Preceded by
Ron Turner
University of Illinois Head Football Coach
2005 – present
Succeeded by


External links

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