The news of Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther announcing he will retire when his contract is up on June 30, hit a lot of people hard, but Illini football coach Ron Zook had to be among the most stung.
Since he hired Zook in 2004, Guenther has been Zook's biggest advocate and has stood by his head football coach even after fan sentiment started to turn ugly. Zook took the Illini to the Rose Bowl in 2007, but went 8-16 the following two seasons, which would have prompted most athletic directors would have cut the rope, but Zook has been hanging on.
Zook expressed similar allegiance to Guenther in a prepared statement released by the school:
"In more than 30 years in this business, coach Guenther is one of the finest men I've ever been around," Zook said in a prepared statement. "He's as good a boss as I've ever had, and I don't say that lightly. He is the ultimate coach's AD. He listens, he helps and he is always there -- always -- when you need him. I hope he will be around in some capacity for a long time, because when he is no longer involved, the university will have lost one of the brightest, most devoted and loyal administrators it will ever have. Nobody cares more about Illinois than Ron Guenther. This place is a much better place because of the time he spent here."
But with Guenther gone and a new AD who's potentially looking to make a splash, all those warm and fuzzies could go right out the window.
Zook's contract runs through 2013, but we all know that means very little in the world of major college sports. If the school is looking to get rid of Zook -- something the fans have been insisting on -- then it will get done.
Zook did improve last year going 7-6 with a win over Baylor in the Texas Bowl. If he can keep the program on an upswing, he can keep the wolves at bay and possibly keep his job.