Coach doesn't want to be a distraction

Updated: November 9, 2004, 7:28 PM ET
Associated Press

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."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press