The one thing that was always said about Ron Zook's tenure as the often-criticized coach of the Florida Gators was that he was a guy that could recruit with the best of them. When Ron Zook was fired as the head coach at the University of Florida in 2004 we all thanked him for his restless hours trying to build the program into a winner, thinking that he was just not the guy that would lead the Gators to any SEC or National Championships. Zook, however, was singing a different tune - stating that he wished he could coach his recruiting classes in full before any judgements were passed.
While it is not known how many Gator fans strong felt that the University made a bad decision firing Zook, I do not imagine that there were very many. Zook had his chances with some pretty talented squads and could not get his team to an SEC Championship or one post-New Year's bowl. I personally was glad to see him quickly get a job at the University of Illinois after his firing, and knew that Zook could have chances for success with the Illini just based on recruting alone.
In his first two seasons as the Illini head coach, Ron Zook has led his team to only 4 wins. That's right, 4. Obviously that tally does not have any observant college football fan calling his tenure with Illinois successful. Despite these extremely low win totals and limited success Ron Zook is still finding ways to bring recruits to the Illini program, slowly building depth and talent - something that could ultimately bring my expectations for a few good times in Champagne when it was all said and done.
The latest recruit to make his commitment to Illinois known is Jacksonville's DeAngelo McCray, a 5-star defensive tackle who chose the Illini over the likes of FSU and even Florida. With the addition of McCray to their commit list for 2007, the Illini now have a group that consists of two 5-star and 2 4-star recruits, something very impressive for a team coming off of a 2 win season. It really leaves you wondering, how the heck does Ron Zook consistently do these things?
One thing that I feel Zook has in his favor this recruiting season would be the success of this year's Gators team; a team in which Ron Zook helped build through tireless recruiting trips and consistently high ranked classes nationally. The bottom line is that consistent recruiting success does equal success on the field in most cases, and this year's Gators team exemplifies this thought.
Would the Gators program be in the same position they are now if Zook was still in the helm? I think not. However, it is IMPOSSIBLE to overlook the effect that Zook has had on this year's SEC title run. If it wasn't for Ron Zook laying the foundation of this team with his constant recruiting of current great Gators - Chris Leak, Reggie Nelson, Jarvis Moss, Earl Everett, etc. - we may not be cheering the Gators in the BCS title game this season. On that same note if Ron Zook was still the head coach of the Florida Gators, we would definitely not be cheering on the Gators in the BCS title game.