JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - He didn't have to be here. He didn't have to prepare, break down film or suffer and hurt through a tough loss. Ron Zook, fired on Monday as head coach at Florida, could have walked away then. His conscience wouldn't let him.
So Saturday he was on the sidelines for the Gators' 31-24 loss to
Georgia, just as he will be for each of the team's three remaining
"I promised a lot of these parents that I would treat their sons
I would want my children to be treated. And I wouldn't want anyone to
give up on my children," Ron Zook said.
"Coaching's a difficult profession sometimes."
This week certainly qualifies as one of the difficult stretches.
Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley, who made an unpopular move when
he hired Zook to replace Steve Spurrier in 2001, fired Zook on Monday -
two days after the Gators' embarrassing 38-31 loss to Mississippi State.
Zook, an exceptional recruiter, didn't turn those recruiting wins into
enough actual victories. Despite a 20-13 record, before the loss to
Georgia, Zook was on the hot seat from the moment he arrived, a victim
of the enormous expectations left in Spurrier's wake.
Still Foley's decision to fire Zook in the middle of the season, right
before, arguably, the Gators' most important game of the year, stunned
The week, already ripe with anticipation, dragged on. Reports
speculated Spurrier was interested in returning to his alma mater
sending the Gator faithful into a tizzy and the players into a funk.
"I couldn't sleep much this week," center Mike Degory said.
Said defensive end Jeremy Mincey, "It was real tough. It messed a
of us physiologically up."
It also forged the Gators with a certain resolve, taken from their
coach who elected to stay and finish out the season.
The players, most who were recruited by Zook, were willing to rally
'round the coach. They respected the way he defended them publicly and
the way he "poured his heart and soul into the program," as safety
Todd McCullough said.
"Coach Zook told us to keep going and don't ever be a quitter. He
didn't quit on us. He stayed and kept coaching," Mincey said.
The longest week got longer Saturday, as the Bulldogs snapped their
six-game losing streak against Florida. The Gators fell to 4-4 and 2-4
in the SEC.
But the team, like its coach, did not quit. Georgia scored touchdowns
on its first three possessions, perhaps, as Zook suggested, a carryover
effect from the troubled week. The Bulldogs led 24-7 midway through the
Florida battled back, closing to within 24-21 and, later, 31-24.
Georgia wouldn't let them get any closer.
"There were a lot of times they could have chased it in, but they
didn't," Zook said. "I'm proud of this football team. They fought to
Zook, too, will do so.