Coach, players confront fraternity members
If it's mid-October, Ron Zook must be catching heat.
For the third straight year, the Florida football coach hits midseason with a cadre of complainers creating "noise in the system," as Zook calls it. Only this time, it isn't just about wins and losses.
This time, Zook is apologizing for his role in a verbal confrontation between Florida football players and fraternity members last month. And his boss, athletics director Jeremy Foley, is calling some of Zook's actions regarding the confrontation "unacceptable."
Florida newspapers reported Wednesday that Zook was mentioned in a police report on a verbal altercation last month between football players and members of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. The papers said 10-15 players -- and their coach -- were at the house on the night of Sept. 16. They were there less than 24 hours after three Gators were involved in a 2 a.m. fight at the house, and less than 48 hours before the team would play its biggest game of the year, at Tennessee.
The Gators players involved in the alleged fight were reserve offensive linemen Billy Griffin, Drew Miller and Steve Rissler.
Griffin received abrasions and bruises in the fight while Rissler sustained a laceration and a broken nose that caused him to miss action against the Vols.
A sworn complaint was filed with the State Attorney's Office accusing fraternity members Aaron Baseman and Dustin Robinson, both 19, and Justin Bailey, 20, of breach of peace and disorderly conduct. The State Attorney's Office will investigate the complaint and decide whether to file charges.
Zook said he went to the scene of the second incident after receiving a call from Foley. But Christopher Bullins, the university's director of Greek life, told police that Zook did more than just round up his guys.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, which obtained the police report, Bullins told police that Zook said to the frat members, "I'm not going to let you take the [expletive] football team down. ... I will do anything in my power to take this house down."
Bullins also said that when a player identified Bailey as the one who allegedly punched Rissler, Zook said, "Oh, you're going to get yours."
Zook has vehemently denied threatening anyone, but he admitted Wednesday that he did not handle the situation well.
"Obviously, in hindsight, I should have handled it differently," Zook said on the SEC conference call Wednesday morning. "I was reacting to keep things from happening."
In a subsequent release from the university, Zook said, "I went to the Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity house to ensure that some of my players did not retaliate for Wednesday's incident.
"In the course of getting my players to return to their dorm across the street, I got into an exchange with some of the fraternity brothers. At the time, I didn't think the exchange was confrontational. If I raised my voice, I apologize. This university deserves to be represented in the right way and in a professional way.
"I care deeply about our players and because of that sometimes my emotions get the better of me. The one thing I would never do is intentionally embarrass this University. I owe too much to the University of Florida for that. ...
"Jeremy [Foley] and I talked the day after the incident. I apologize to all that were involved and the Gator fans for my actions."
In the same statement, Foley said: "I spoke to Coach Zook the following day. He has apologized and the matter was dealt with internally.
"Coach Zook went there with the intention of keeping his players out of trouble, which he did, but he let his emotions get the best of him. Obviously, certain aspects of that evening could have been handled better and some of his behavior was unacceptable. This is not what this program is about and Coach Zook knows that. This matter is now behind us."
Fraternity members refused to discuss the incident Wednesday.
Zook's Gators are 3-2 heading into a Saturday game against Middle Tennessee. Last week, they lost a late lead at home against LSU and fell 24-21. That loss, coupled with a loss in Knoxville, likely knocks Florida out of contention for the SEC Eastern Division title -- something Zook has yet to win.
This has become an annually trying time for Zook, who has failed to enthrall the Florida fan base the way Steve Spurrier did before him. Last year at around this time, Florida was 3-3, and the year before, Zook's first on the job, it was 4-3.
In each of the previous two years, the Gators have rallied later in the season for some big wins, including beating Georgia twice, but have finished the regular season losing to Florida State. Zook's record in Gainesville is 19-12, 14-6 in SEC play.
Zook told the Sentinel on Tuesday that the only reason the incident came to light was because of the loss to LSU. But when asked Wednesday by ESPN.com about the timing, he said, "There's nothing to it. I'm not worried about it. I'm focused on Middle Tennessee."
Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.