Monday, May 05, 2008

A glimpse into the mind of a loser

I've been searching high and low for the article below and finally found it. Reading this article is what began to turn me against Ron Zook when he was at Florida. I referred to this article in my very first post on this blog. To me it's the definitive Ron Zook article. I'm publishing it here in its entirety for posterity. Comments after the article. The underlining is mine.

Role reversal: Gators are ultimate underdogs
Web posted Tuesday, September 2, 2003
By Eddie Pells | Associated Press

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Something seems wrong here.

They won their opener by 62, they play at the fourth-biggest school in the country and their stable of tailbacks and receivers is as deep as it has been in years.

Yet outside of Gainesville - maybe in Gainesville, too - hardly anyone gives the Florida Gators a chance this weekend against No. 3 Miami.

"I'm just going to write all those critics a check," linebacker Travis Harris said. "Because they're not doing anything but motivating us."

If that's the case, the 21st-ranked Gators should have plenty of motivation coming from many places.

Start in Las Vegas, where they are 14 1/2 -point underdogs. A team that used to go entire seasons without being picked to lose is now the biggest underdog it has been since Florida State was favored by 16 1/2 in 1988, two years before Steve Spurrier arrived.

"You try not to look at the odds or anything, but it is kind of tough," offensive lineman Shannon Snell said.

The odds are what they are for several reasons, most of them legit.

Florida lost 41-16 to the 'Canes at home last year and 37-20 in the Sugar Bowl the season before.

The Gators are coming off a five-loss season, their worst since 1989.

Their quarterbacks - Ingle Martin, Chris Leak and Gavin Dickey - have virtually no experience. Leak and Dickey are freshmen and Martin is a sophomore who has barely played, and never started a game on the road. In fact, Florida's 65-3 win over San Jose State last week was the first time any of them had significant playing time.

Then, there is the so-called "talent gap," a touchy issue that both players and coaches dance around.

In an interview earlier this summer, coach Ron Zook said he remembered standing in the tunnel last year before the Miami game, looking across the field at the talented Hurricanes.

"I said to whoever was standing next to me, 'Fellas, in three years, we're going to look like that,"' he said.

On Tuesday, he wasn't playing the comparison game.

"I'll just say that they're a very, very talented football team," he said.

Offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher described the problems more clearly.

"A lot of people have speed at some positions, but all of their guys are at the top of the charts," he said. "All their guys can run, and that minimizes the chance you have for a big play, because there's a hole there and it closes in a big hurry."

Of course, no coach or player goes into a game thinking there's no way he can win.

Several times this week, Zook has taken the rather outlandish stance of using last year's 25-point loss as a reason for optimism, talking about how things could have gone differently with a break here or there.

For instance, he says, the Gators blocked a punt deep in Miami territory and settled for a field goal and a 10-6 lead, instead of a touchdown and a 14-6 advantage. In the third quarter, Florida was driving for a touchdown that could have pulled the game within four. Instead, Maurice Sikes picked off a pass and ran 97 yards for a score that made it 34-16.

"That's a 14-point swing there," Zook said. "Who knows? If we score, with our crowd, and they start pressing a little bit, you never know."

Of course, the Gators are the Gators - a difficult season and a 25-point loss aren't going to take away all the swagger.

"I don't really see them as a favorite," defensive lineman Darrell Lee said. "Me, personally, I don't see them winning the game."

Zook doesn't want his players thinking they're a lost cause, but he has tempered his comments this week.

"Everyone knows how good they are," he said. "This is an opportunity to go down there, and not only show people where we are, but find out for ourselves where we are."

--From the Wednesday, September 3, 2003 online edition of the Augusta Chronicle
Now, to understand the significance of the quote I underlined I need to give you some background. Miami hates Florida and Florida hates Miami. For more on this click here. In any case, Florida had dropped Miami from its regular season schedule in 1987. In 2002 (the year before this article was written) the two teams were squaring off for only the second time since 1987. It was Zook's SECOND game and his first BIG game against a quality opponent. In 2002, Zook had the Heisman runner-up, Rex Grossman, as his starting QB. He had several players that would eventually end up on NFL rosters. Despite what Zook said, he did not inherit an empty cupboard at Florida. It was a home game in the Swamp.

Needless to say, the Gators got shellacked in that game, back in 2002. The score was 41-16. Florida went on to finish that first year under Zook with an 8-5 record.

Now fast forward to the week before the rematch down in Miami. The article above appeared in the paper. Remember the underlined passage: Ron Zook said he remembered standing in the tunnel last year before the Miami game, looking across the field at the talented Hurricanes.

"I said to whoever was standing next to me, 'Fellas, in three years, we're going to look like that,"' he said.
Zook admitted to believing he was overmatched against the Hurricanes in 2002 BEFORE THE GAME! This is classic Zook. Instead of worrying about the players had at that moment, he was thinking about what the future might look like. He wasn't thinking about ways to beat Miami, for him it was a foregone conclusion.

I don't know what's worse, that he thought those thoughts on that day in 2002, that he actually voiced them to someone on the sideline, or that he repeated them to a reporter a year later?

Unbelievable. This is one of the reasons I can't stand Zook.

In the 2003 game, in Miami, the Gators coughed up a huge halftime lead and lost the game in the closing minutes.

The perfect ending to this story is that in 2004, after Zook was fired and hired by Illinois, his defensive coordinator, Charlie Strong, coached Zook's Gators in the Peach Bowl against the Hurricanes. The team predictably lost 27-10. In three years Zook managed to lose three times to a rival the Gators had only played once in the previous 15.