Before heading off to the Big Ten kickoff luncheon in Chicago tomorrow I wanted to post the latest Q&A with an opponent blogger. Joe Kutsunis is the dashingly handsome man whom women want and men want to be as the manager of Illinois' SBNation site, Hail to the Orange. I met Joe at the Big Ten Tournament this spring and shared updating duties for the mothership after each game with him. He ahd some choice things to say for the Boilermaker faithful concerning Ron Zook. It is safe to say the Zooker needs to have a good season this year, but Joe is far from confident. Check out Joe's thoughts after the Jump, as he gives us some insights on the 2010 Fighting Illini.
I wrote this out as an explanation of how and why Zook still has a job, and how we arrived to the place we did. Looking at the length I think I should just post this as its own post on my site. either way, I hope it is informative on what has been going on at the University of Illinois. I'll try and answer the other questions later.
The coaching situation at Illinois is as interesting as there can be for team that has only made 1 bowl in the last 5 years. Halfway through the season last year, in the middle of an epic conference losing streak, the AD Ron Guenther declared that no matter the record for the Illini that season, Ron Zook would return for the 2010 season. I have no idea why Guenther felt it was right to say so at that time, but it was pretty clear that it was not only the performance of the team that was affecting the decision to retain Zook for the next year. There was no way that given the other events surrounding the University that the amount of money required to buy out Zook's contract could be justified.
Because of the state's ongoing budget problems, all of the state universities had been getting IOU's instead of state funding, leaving extreme budget shortfalls in the laps of the Universities. A hiring freeze, furlough days for employees, and an at least 10% raise in tuition have been adopted to remedy the situation, so it would take an awfully ballsy President and Board of Trustees to approve the buy out of Zook's three remaining years.
You might also remember that we have a famous former governor that was a bit loose with the rules, (I think he was fired from the Apprentice too) but a scandal connected to him resulted in the entire board of trustees, President and Chancellor being replaced. Given that they were only installed very recently it seems pretty unlikely that this new board or President would approve the funding for a coaching change. Unlike largely privately funded institutions like Notre Dame or huge football programs like Ohio State, there is not a terribly active and generous Alumni base from which to draw for a buyout in the style of Charlie Weis. That means that everyone would have to live with the Zook contract as long as the budget looks like it does.
That said, the disappointment that was last season was real, and something had to be done, thus the almost wholesale housecleaning of the coaching assistants. The Mike Schultz experiment was over, as was Zook's de facto control of the defense. Thus the acquisition of Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning for a great deal more than would be normally paid to coordinators, but for a much cheaper price than hiring a new head coach.
It may very well be that the decision to keep Zook was one that was made independent of the budget situation, but the assistants that were hired suggest that Guenther wanted to take the program in a new direction. With Petrino, the Illini abandoned the offense that had been a staple since Zook arrived in Champaign, and with Koenning, the defense is now no longer solely Zook's. We may not have removed Zook from the helm, but the changes were no less seismic.