Illinois football coach Ron Zook was fired Sunday, one day after the Fighting Illini lost their sixth straight game in blowout fashion to the Minnesota Golden Gophers, 27-7.
The Illini had won their first six games of the season, averaging 35 points a game, but could only average 11 en route to a .500 record. Zook, after six years as coach of the team, finished 34-51 at Illinois, achieving only two winning records: a 9-4 one in 2007 that got the Illini to the Rose Bowl, which they lost to USC, 49-17, and last year's 7-6 one that got the Illini to the Texas Bowl, which they won against Baylor, 38-14.
I believe we need new leadership to take the program to the level to compete for championships on a consistent basis, said Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas in a statement released by the university. This is an extremely competitive conference, and we are determined to go head-to-head with the very best.
Thomas, who became AD just last summer, praised Zook, whom he hired in 2005 to replace current Indianapolis Colts assistant coach Ron Turner, for elevating Illinois. Zook took over after Turner produced four losing seasons in five years. Nevertheless, he also alluded to Zook's inconsistency at Illinois.
It is imperative that our program shows some consistency and competes for championships, and I think a change in coaches can help us get there sooner, he said. I wasn't here seven years ago when Ron Zook took over as coach, but it's clear the program is in better shape than what he inherited.
Thomas said defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will take over as interim head coach while a search begins for Zook's successor.
Despite an average season, the Illini are still bowl-eligible. If they are slotted, it would be their first back-to-back bowl appearances since '91 and '92.
Besides his two winning seasons and this year's .500 finish, Zook went 2-9 in his first season at Illinois, 2-10 in '06, 5-7 in '08 and 3-9 in '09. Known as a hard worker and extraordinary recruiter, Zook's tenure with the Illini most likely fell short of the fans' and school's expectations.
The team's offense and special teams were sub-par, especially the latter, which finished last in the Big Ten in both kickoff and punt returns yards and near the bottom of the conference in both kickoff and punt coverage.