October 24, 2009
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Purdue 24, Illinois 14. Nothing out of the ordinary here in the result -- Illinois gave up three straight long touchdown drives in the first half, juggled its quarterbacks throughout and again failed to get forgotten star Arrelious Benn (three catches for 15 yards) involved in the offense -- or in the Illini solidifying their place at the bottom of the Big Ten standings with their fifth straight conference loss. But there were surprises yet, notably Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther assuring reporters during halftime, with the Illini obviously sinking again at 21-7, that beleaguered coach Ron Zook isn't going anywhere any time soon:
"There will be some changes, but there won't be a change at the top," Guenther told reporters Saturday at halftime of Illinois' 24-14 loss to Purdue. "There's a great deal of frustration obviously with the program at the moment. We're still going to evaluate [at the end of the season], but I think it's really unfair to start jumping at the end of the fifth year on a guy."
That confirms what former Minnesota coach Glen Mason reported for the Big Ten Network this morning, when he said Guenther was "emphatic" about Zook's return in 2010 during a conversation he had with the AD on Friday. (A revelation that didn't sit well with the regular Illini beat writers.) As far as weird votes of confidence go, that one is awfully specific.
This loss dropped Zook to 19-36 over those five years, and puts him within one more loss of his fourth losing season -- and not a "we just didn't catch the breaks" losing season like last year's 5-7 debacle, but a "kill me now" losing season that will likely include no conference wins and more closely resembles the two-win disasters in Zook's first two seasons than the stunning Rose Bowl run in 2007. This is the kind of season that got Ron Turner fired three years after his improbable Big Ten title campaign in 2001, only with fewer excuses: With a four-year starter at quarterback, one of the top offensive weapons in the country split wide and years of improved recruiting, this was supposed to be a darkhorse contender in the conference. Instead it's regressed across the board, to the point that Juice Williams has been benched twice in three weeks and Benn, once a sure-fire first-round pick, has been rendered impotent.
These are Zook's recruits, and have clearly regressed over their careers, if they haven't blatantly quit on this fiery wreck of a season. After three mediocre years at Florida and five bringing Illinois full-circle to the cellar, what aspect of the Zook plan has he failed to implement? Either Guenther is convinced his coach still has another 2007 up his sleeve, or he's tired of trying to figure out how to get out of paying one hell of a buyout.