GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Ron Zook was fired Monday but will finish the season while the university searches for his replacement.
"It is clear to us that in evaluating our football program that something is not working," Foley said in a statement. "I accept full responsibility for where we are today and I feel this change is necessary for us to reach our goals."
The Gators are 20-13 under Zook with four games left -- that's just 14 losses fewer than Spurrier had in 12 seasons.
The latest debacle, a 38-31 loss to Mississippi State, sealed Zook's fate and brought jubilation among those in Gator Nation who turned www.fireronzook.com into their Internet home page. The site posted this message Monday: "It's happening! It's happening! Oh my God it's happening!"
Spurrier's return would be welcomed in Gainesville. At a charity golf tournament near Orlando, Spurrier said he expected to discuss the job opening.
"I'll cross that bridge if it comes to that," Spurrier told the Orlando Sentinel. "The thing I've tried to do all this year is not be lingering around, acting like I'm waiting for another guy's job. I don't believe that's the right way to do it. But now that he doesn't have a job, I guess there will be some discussion. We'll see what happens."
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and Utah coach Urban Meyer also could be possibilities. Stoops was Spurrier's defensive coordinator for three seasons at Florida, and current University of Florida president Bernie Machen hired Meyer at Utah after the 2002 season.
After being turned down by Mike Shanahan and Stoops when Spurrier left for the NFL, Foley shockingly hired his buddy -- the guy he called "The Zooker."
Almost all the concerns about Spurrier's former defensive coordinator -- that he was in over his head, had never been a head coach, wasn't composed enough to manage a game from the sideline -- became reality.
"I want to thank coach Zook for his extraordinary effort. No one outworked him, no one out-recruited him," Foley said.
|2003||8-5||6-2||L in Outback|
|2002||8-5||6-2||L in Outback|
|Totals||20-13||14-7||0-2 in bowls|
Just weeks before the Mississippi State loss, reports surfaced that Zook had a heated confrontation with fraternity members on campus. Zook initially downplayed his role, saying he went there to defuse the situation, but Foley later acknowledged that Zook yelled at students and called the behavior "unacceptable."
Foley said the same thing about the mounting losses -- many of them late collapses.
The Gators blew fourth-quarter leads against Tennessee and LSU this season, and did the same against Miami, Mississippi and Florida State last year. There also were two near meltdowns against Arkansas.
There were other debacles, too, including consecutive Outback Bowl losses to Michigan and Iowa -- games in which the team often looked unprepared.
Zook showed resiliency through it all. He led the Gators to four straight wins in 2002 and five in a row last season -- after it looked like they could finish with losing records. He also has two big wins over rival Georgia.
Foley extended his contract after last season, saying he felt the program was on the right track.
The latest problems, however, were too much to overcome.
"Any time a fellow coach is fired, that's disappointing," Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom said Monday. "Ron's a good football coach who has had an excellent career. I hate that he and his coaching staff and their families have to go through that. We know this is part of the business, but it's not a part of the business that any of us enjoy."