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Coach doesn't want to be a distraction

11/9/2004 - Florida Gators

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Ron Zook will skip one of
the school's top homecoming festivities, saying Tuesday he doesn't
want to be a distraction in his final days with the team.

Zook won't take part in "Gator Growl" on Friday night, a day
before the Gators host South Carolina in their home finale.

Normally, the coach introduces the seniors in front of a packed
stadium. Steve Spurrier did it during each of his 12 seasons. So
did former coaches Gary Darnell, Galen Hall, Charley Pell, Doug
Dickey and Ray Graves.

But Zook, fired Oct. 25 after an embarrassing loss at
Mississippi State, said he wanted to make sure the focus is on the
event, not him.

"I don't want anything to happen that would interrupt a special
time for them," he said. "This is their time and I would hate for
something to happen that would take away from their moment."

Zook declined to say whether he thought he would get booed.

The loss to Mississippi State, one of the Southeastern
Conference's worst teams, was just the latest in a series of
problems for the third-year coach. The Gators finished 8-5 in each
of Zook's first two seasons -- losing to unranked teams each year --
and have had several late collapses and two more near meltdowns.

Zook also got into a heated confrontation with several members
of a campus fraternity in September, two days before losing at
Tennessee.

When he was fired, Zook agreed to coach the rest of the season
because he felt he owed it to his players, especially the seniors.

He opted to skip "Gator Growl" for the same reason.

He said he wasn't sure who would stand in for him, but it could
be one of the seniors -- possibly linebacker Travis Harris, safety
Cory Bailey or offensive lineman Casey Griffith.

"I'm not sure how they're going to do it," Zook said.
"They're going to do it without me."

Several seniors said they supported Zook's choice.

"Gator Growl is mostly for the alumni, for the people coming
back, for the people who are graduating," Bailey said. "If he
doesn't want to take part in it and if he feels that's a
distraction, then I support his decision."

Added Griffith: "It won't be disappointing. Coach doesn't want
any distractions. We're playing South Carolina and we're playing to
earn a bowl game. I can understand that decision."

Zook said he hoped the players would not be distracted by any
homecoming activities, which includes a parade Friday.

"Homecoming is for the people who have been here," he said.
"That's one of the things we tell the players: don't get caught up
in the festivities. The festivities are for the alumni. Your chance
for homecoming's going to be after you graduate and are gone.

"It's just another game, except you have a parade and you get
school off."

Zook also took a small dig at the university -- his first since
getting fired with a winning record. He flipped through the weekly
SEC release, rattling off all the offensive categories in which the
Gators are ranked first.

Then he added: "First staff to be fired."