Strong will be interim coach for bowl

Updated: December 7, 2004, 5:27 PM ET
Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Illinois is turning to Ron Zook to reinvigorate its struggling football program.

Ron Zook
APRon Zook has a new job, but it's unclear if he'll remain on the job at Florida for the Peach Bowl.

The school scheduled an afternoon news conference to introduce the former Florida coach, said Kent Brown, the university's sports information director.

Zook and athletic director Ron Guenther talked last Tuesday, but Illinois could not name a new coach until a two-week waiting period to meet equal employment opportunity guidelines passed. The deadline was 5 p.m. Monday.

Zook will replace Ron Turner, who was fired Nov. 22 after the team went 3-8.

Florida fired Zook on Oct. 25 after an embarrassing loss at Mississippi State. Zook coached the Gators for the rest of the season, finishing 7-4, including 3-1 after he was fired, and getting an invitation to the Peach Bowl.

Zook will not coach the Gators in that game. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley told The Gainesville Sun this morning that he called Zook to tell him he has coached his last game for the Gators. Foley said defensive coordinator Charlie Strong will be named interim coach for the Dec. 31 Peach Bowl against Miami.

Zook's firing at Florida came after two-plus years with the Gators, satisfying a growing groundswell for his ouster that began the day he replaced Steve Spurrier, who left for the NFL.

Zook was 23-14 with Florida and had some impressive victories, including two over Georgia, one over eventual national champion LSU last season and an upset of Florida State on Nov. 20. It was the Gators' first win in Tallahassee since 1986. That may have been Zook's final game with Florida. He has not said whether he will coach the Gators in a bowl game.

Turner was fired after Illinois had just one Big Ten victory in two seasons. Just three years ago, Turner led the Illini to their first conference title in a decade.

Illinois won only once in 2003 and lost 14 Big Ten games in a row before defeating Indiana 26-22 on Nov. 6. Two of the Illini's four wins in the past two seasons have been against Division I-AA opponents, Illinois State and Florida A&M.

Zook, who played football at Miami of Ohio, was an NFL assistant for six years before taking over for Spurrier. He was the New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator for two seasons; defensive backs coach for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1999; and special teams coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1996-98.

Before that, he was an assistant at Florida from 1991-95, and also worked as an assistant at Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Kansas, Cincinnati and Murray State.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press