Illini Football Coach Ron Zook Fired
Ron Zook's run as Illinois football coach is over.
U of I Athletic Director Mike Thomas issued a press release Sunday, announcing that Zook would not be retained as head football coach, ending a sen-year run that saw the Illini qualify for three bowls, including the 2008 Rose Bowl.
The announcement came a day after the Illini ended the season at 6-6, losing six straight to end the season, including Saturday's finale at Minnesota 27-7.
"I assessed the entire program and felt that it was time for a change in leadership," Thomas said. "It is imperative that our program shows some consistency and competes for championships, and I think a change in coaches can help us get there sooner. I wasn't here seven years ago when Ron Zook took over as coach, but it's clear the program is in better shape than what he inherited."
Thomas says new leadership is needed to take the football program to the level to compete for championships on a consistent basis.
Zook was named head coach at Illinois in December, 2004, and compiled a record of 34-51, including 18-38 in Big Ten play during his Illini stint. The six-game losing streak came after starting the 2011 campaign with six consecutive victories and earning at Top 20 ranking. In 2007, Illinois surprised many with a 9-4 record, including a 6-2 mark in Big Ten play to finish in second place.
The Fighting Illini posted a memorable 28-21 vicory over top-ranked Ohio State at Columbus that season to propel them into a Rose Bowl invitation. Following the 2007 season, Zook was named the Liberty Mutual National Coach of the Year and Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Zook is one of only four coaches to win games at Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, and produced three first-round NFL draft picks in the last four seasons. Illinois' 38-14 victory over Baylor at the 2010 Texas Bowl was Illinois' first bowl victory since 1999.
But, the three seasons of bowl eligibility were also interspersed with two wins in 2005 and 2006, five wins in 2008 and three in 2009. Zook finishes his Illinois tenure with a winning record over just Indiana among conference opponents. Thomas indicated a national search would begin immediately and that he hoped to name a new coach as soon as possible.
"Obviously, we have some hiring policies and regulations to follow, and some candidates may be involved with their own teams and bowl preparations, but I expect to move forward quickly," Thomas said.
Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, was head coach at Wyoming from 2000-02, will serve as interim coach through the expected bowl game appearance.
UPDATE: Hours after he was fired as football coach at Illinois Ron Zook is thanking the university and his players for what he called "seven special years.