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Zook, As In Crook? Highly Unlikely

Posted by sportsmaven on February 9, 2007

If you’ve been keeping up on the college athletics recruiting front, you’ll know that football national signing day was this past Wednesday. Apparently some recruiting sour grapes were splashed all over the New York Times in an article blasting Ron Zook and the University of Illinois recruiting tactics. The article more than insinuates that Illinois, with “little recent [recruiting] tradition”, according to Tom Lemming, a top recruiting analyst, has neifariously attracted top talent to Champaign.

Illinois Football Coach Ron Zook

(Photo courtesy of Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

I will say that Ron Zook’s reputation as a top national recruiter was cemented when the Florida Gators, starting 20 of 22 players recruited by Zook, won college football’s national championship. When Florida coach Urban Meyer personally and publically gave credit to Ron Zook for building the Gators team to a national power, Zook’s coronation was complete.

So what’s really going on here? I’ll tell you what’s going on, college recruiting is a dog eat dog world. Recruiting has become big business. It’s highly competitive and highly unethical on both sides of the table. College coaches are in a position to set the tone and lead by example in promoting ethical recruitment tactics, but coaches are not rewarded for ethics. They can be penalized for lack of ethics, but bottom line, coaches are measured and rewarded by wins and losses, both on and off the field. These college coaches are smart, they know how to play the game as set up by the NCAA. They know their livelihood, in large part, dependent on getting the big names to commit to their schools and then getting those big names to perform, i.e. win games. Ron Zook learned that lesson the hard way in Florida, where he pulled in the top talent, but exited with a pair of 8 win seasons in tow. Sorry, Ron, not good enough. Players commit and de-commit as the wind blows. Look at basketball guard Eric Gordon leaving his committment to the Illinois program for Indiana. Your word is no longer your bond.

Bobby Petrino, formerly of University of Louisville, now the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons reportedly told recruits that he had no thoughts of jumping to the NFL, but yet accepted the Falcons job after most of his recruiting was complete. New Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe amazingly kept all of Petrino’s recruits and added a couple of his own. His secret — he hit the recruiting trail personally and closed each deal personally with Petrino’s recruits and that’s what left a very favorable impression to those recruits. And that is how Ron Zook recruits, personally and tirelessly.

The other thing to note from the whining in the New York Times article is that not every player WANTS to go to USC and Notre Dame. Players want to go where they have the opportunity to play. As a top recruit, if you are the top of the top and can play right away at USC and Notre Dame, you go to those schools. If those schools that are pursuing you are loaded at your position, do you really want to go to a Notre Dame to sit on the bench when another school can offer you playing time, or build a program around you? The playing field is quickly becoming level in college sports. Facilities are roughly very similar at the top programs. Exposure is roughly very similar at top programs. Playing time? Not so much. Look at the coaches who are whining about Illinois recruiting — John L. Smith, a FORMER coach at Michigan State and Charlie Weis of Notre Dame, a coach who still reeled in a Top 10 class. Why would a guy like Charlie Weis publically complain about potential recruiting scandals? Because guys like Ron Zook make his job more difficult. Sorry, Charlie, not every top recruit wants to go to Notre Dame. If that were the case, maybe you would already have that team speed on defense that you still sorely lack.

I certainly don’t hear Pete Carroll, Bobby Bowden, or Urban Meyer insinuating that Illinois unethically attained their recruits. (although according to the Washington Post, USC might be in some recruiting hot water with one of it’s top recruits) Illinois signee WR Arrelious Benn was being recruited by Miami, Florida State and Notre Dame. The Washington Post wrote a very intriguing article providing a glimpse of how Benn’s recruiting process went down. Illinois signee DT D’Angelo McCray was being heavily recruited by Florida. It’s dog eat dog out there and Ron Zook is turning up the heat…….

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