Monday, May 23, 2011

Ron Zook for Illinois AD


Longtime Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther announced his retirement last week. Most of the focus has been on what effect that could have on often-embattled coaches Bruce Weber and Ron Zook, but seeing as how those programs have achieved at about their historical norm most years under those coaches, with one wildly successful season apiece, the danger to those two is probably a bit overstated. Zook in particular seems to have Illinois ensconced in the meaty middle of Big Ten teams, and while that doesn't sound like much, Illinois went over .500 twice in the past decade. Meaty middle is an accomplishment in Champaign, at least on the football field.

Judging from the past paragraph and the title of the post, you probably know where I'm going with this: isn't Ron Zook the perfect athletic director candidate? He has spent a lifetime in major conference college football, and while he hasn't been particularly successful, he probably has more of a sense of what it a coach needs to win than your average businessman or athletic department employee. The coach-to-athletic director move isn't unprecedented (the best athletic director in the Big Ten is Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez).

Besides, 90% of an athletic director's job is spent either fundraising or thinking up zany schemes to make those fundraising efforts even more successful. Zook's recruiting prowess is unquestioned, and even the bulk of Illinois fans that don't particularly care for Zook the Coach seem to like Zook the Person. At 57 years old, Zook, may be tiring of chasing down high school football players during every waking moment of his free time. At the very least, the hors d'oeuvres are better when you spend every waking moment of your life chasing down millionaires looking to part with their disposable income. As for the other 10% of the job, search firms do most of the heavy lifting when communicating with prospects for coaching vacancies, and everyone in the business knows the top ten or so candidates each offseason. Figuring out which one of those candidates is actually a good head coach is probably little better than a crap shoot; just ask the guy booing Gene Chizik on the tarmac, or Charles "Turner Gill or Racism" Barkley.

There's a thousand reasons this won't happen, not least of which is that the football season is less than 100 days away--not exactly the best time to announce a new head coach, even if the promotion was made from within. And I'm sure this will seem like a success-through-failure promotion to many, even if sound football strategy is not a prerequisite or even helpful as an athletic director. But Illinois can, and probably will, do a lot worse.