Posted by Tom Fornelli
The University of Illinois announced on Monday that longtime athletic director Ron Guenther would be stepping down from the position on June 30 after 19 years on the job. While there are plenty of people in Champaign who are likely to miss Guenther, I don't think anybody will miss him more than Illinois' head football coach Ron Zook. Guenther was not only the man who hired Zook in 2004, but he may be the only reason that Zook is still employed at the school.
After Illinois floundered in the two seasons following a Rose Bowl appearance in 2007, there were many Illinois fans and boosters who wanted Zook gone. Still, Guenther kept him around and even spent the money to bring in two top assistants like Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning. Guenther also gave Zook and his assistants raises after a 7-6 season in 2010.
Make no mistake, there is always a lot of pressure on you when you're the head coach of a BCS football program. Now that Guenther is gone, there's even more pressure on Zook's shoulders. First of all, it's always optimal to work for the man that hired you, no matter what line of work you're in. When a new guy comes in you have to prove yourself all over again, or risk being replaced. There's also the chance that the new athletic director will want to bring in his own coach.
Guenther will be involved in the search for his replacement, which is good news for Zook, but just because Guenther helps choose the new AD, that doesn't mean whomever it ends up being will be as supportive. Even though Illinois has long been considered a basketball school, Guenther put a lot of money into the football program. He renovated Memorial Stadium and built an indoor football facility on the team. In other words, he put a lot of money into the program and hasn't gotten the type of results you'd want for the money spent.
There's no way of knowing whether the new athletic director will be as willing to give as much money to the football program. And if that turns out to be the case, then Zook will have to do even more with less. Zook's current contract runs through 2013, but odds are he's going to need to start winning a lot more often than he has been if he wants to be around through the end of his deal.
Ron Zook loses a supporter in Champaign
Posted by Tom Fornelli