Players question timing, rationale

Updated: October 25, 2004, 9:18 PM ET
Associated Press

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida players questioned the rationale and timing of coach Ron Zook's firing Monday, five days before the Gators play rival Georgia (No. 7 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP).

"The whole situation is just messed up," defensive tackle Ray McDonald said. "I really don't understand why they are doing this right now, especially just before the Georgia game. I don't understand it, I really don't."

Most players refused to talk about the situation after practice Monday night.

Zook told them about his dismissal at a team meeting Monday afternoon, hours after they found out from radio, television and Internet reports.

"It was a bad moment," McDonald said. "We didn't like the change, but we're all grown men so even if we don't like it, we're going to have to deal with it."

While talking about his players at a news conference earlier in the day, Zook had to pause several times to compose himself. Considered one of the nation's top recruiters, Zook has always had a close relationship with his players -- sometimes maybe too close.

He has been criticized for not disciplining his players harshly enough or often enough. And he was chastised for verbally defending them after a fight with fraternity members last month.

Ultimately, the Gators didn't get it done on the field. They are 20-13 under Zook, with several of the losses coming after blowing late leads. The players felt they should be blamed for the collapses.

"Our coaches don't deserve this," McDonald said. "We take the load as players. The coaches don't do anything but call the plays. We have to execute them, so it's on us."

Tight end Markell Thompson had a more realistic view.

"Hey, it's a business," he said. "Sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do."

McDonald, a sophomore, said he didn't expect many of his teammates to transfer because of Zook's firing, but he acknowledged that it might depend on who gets hired.

Former coach Steve Spurrier, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, Utah coach Urban Meyer and Louisville coach Bobby Petrino are considered possible candidates.

McDonald said one thing was certain -- the unranked Gators will be ready for the Bulldogs on Saturday in Jacksonville.

"Everything is wrong with this whole situation. Everything is wrong," he said. "This should've never happened. Everybody is a little mad right now, but we will come out to play for our coaches. We just have to play for our coaches now and show them that this was the wrong decision.

"We have got to prove a lot of things Saturday," he said.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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