GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Ron Zook was fired Monday
after two-plus years and a stack of embarrassments on and off the
field, satisfying a growing groundswell for his ouster that began
the day he replaced Steve Spurrier.
Zook will finish out the season while athletic director Jeremy
Foley and school president Bernie Machen search for another coach.
The school will buy out Zook's contract at $450,000 for each of the remaining years, the Gainesville Sun reported Monday.
"In the final analysis, it was apparent to me that something's
not working here," Foley said. "I know that's kind of nebulous,
but it's the truth. It's hard to put a finger on it exactly, but it
certainly just didn't appear to be working as we all envisioned."
The Gators are 20-13 under Zook with four games left -- that's
just 14 losses fewer than Spurrier had in 12 seasons.
Zook's latest debacle, a 38-31 loss to Mississippi State, sealed
his fate and brought jubilation among those in Gator Nation who
turned www.fireronzook.com into their Internet home page. The site
posted this message Monday: "It's happening! It's happening! Oh my
God it's happening!"
Spurrier's return would be welcomed in Gainesville.
"We will discuss this job with a number of coaches, and
obviously if Coach Spurrier is interested, we will sit down with
him," Foley said.
"I'll cross that bridge if it comes to that," Spurrier told
the Orlando Sentinel. "The thing I've tried to do all this year is
not be lingering around, acting like I'm waiting for another guy's
job. I don't believe that's the right way to do it. But now that he
doesn't have a job, I guess there will be some discussion. We'll
see what happens."
Foley planned to talk with Spurrier soon but said he won't
discuss the opening with coaches with jobs until after the season.
Attention also will focus on Urban Meyer, coach of No. 10 Utah, since school president Machen came to Gainesville from Utah.
Meyer, however, was more worried about his Utah team, which climbed to sixth in the latest BCS Standings.
"I have a team to coach here, and we're in the middle of a championship run," Meyer said. "(Zook's firing) has no bearing on what we're doing here, and I don't have any further comment."
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops also could
be a possibility. Stoops was Spurrier's defensive coordinator for
three seasons at Florida.
Machen and Foley decided Sunday morning that Zook's tenure was
over. They informed the coach Monday morning at Machen's home.
Zook agreed to coach the remainder of the season -- something
Foley was counting on.
"I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate and respect
these players," Zook read from a statement, making little eye
contact and pausing several times to collect his emotions. "They
work hard and they do what we ask. I take a lot of pride in the
fact that we leave this program in very good shape, with a lot of
good young talent and good people.
"The future of Gator football is very, very bright."
When Spurrier left for the NFL, Foley shockingly hired Zook -- a
close friend he called "The Zooker" -- after being turned down by
Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan and Stoops.
Almost all the concerns about Spurrier's former defensive
coordinator -- that he was in over his head, had never been a head
coach and wasn't composed enough to manage a game from the sideline
-- became reality.
"When the situation starts going downhill, it's hard sometimes
to push it back up," Foley said. "I think the situation got out
of control, even for him."
Zook also lost support within the university in recent weeks because of an incident involving a campus fraternity. Members of the football team got into a fight with members of a university fraternity. Foley asked Zook to go to the house and serve as a peacemaker. Instead, Zook lost his temper and became argumentative with the students.
Foley said the same thing about the mounting losses -- many of
them late collapses.
The Gators blew fourth-quarter leads against Tennessee and LSU
this season, and did the same against Miami, Mississippi and
Florida State last year. There also were two near meltdowns against
There were other debacles, too, including consecutive Outback
Bowl losses to Michigan and Iowa -- games in which Florida looked
unprepared at times.
Zook showed resiliency through it all. He led the Gators to four
straight wins in 2002 and five in a row last season -- after it
looked like they could finish with losing records. He also has two
big wins over rival Georgia, the Gators' next opponent.
Foley even extended Zook's contract after last season, saying he
felt the program was on the right track.
The latest problems, however, were too much to overcome.
Foley said he kept Zook for the rest of the season because it
was "something he deserves."
"The guy has been here for three years; this is his football
team," Foley said. "He's worked extraordinarily hard. It would be
inappropriate for him not to finish the season. It would be
inappropriate for the kids, too. We didn't think that would have
been right in our opinion."
Information from ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel, Pat Forde and The Associated Press were used in this report.