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October 25, 2004

Zook's firing shakes things up

Some will question the decision, and others will approve it.

But the reality is that Ron Zook's firing at Florida will have a ripple effect that will change recruiting in the state of Florida and the entire Southeast region for the Class of 2005 and for many years to come.

Despite a 14-13 record against BCS conference opponents and an 8-5 record in 2003, Zook and his staff were some of the best recruiters in all of college football. Coming off that sub par record - for Gator standards - in 2003, Florida finished with the nation's No. 7 class. In 2003, he had the No. 2 class and in 2002 the Gators had the No. 20 class.

Zook recruited stars like receiver Andre Caldwell and quarterback Chris Leak. The 2005 class was starting to shape up as one of the best in the nation, too.

Of the seven pledges in this year's class four of them were considered to be impact recruits and the Gators were factors in the recruitment of five-star studs Derrick Williams, Kenneth Phillips, Justin King and Ryan Reynolds.

And let's not even get started on all the blue-chip talent in Florida the Gators would likely have snagged. Players like Ronnie Wilson, Bryan Evans, Guesly Dervil and O.J. Murdock were considered to be Florida leans, and don't forget that Zook had wrapped up one of the nation's top junior college players in Reggie Nelson out of Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College after he signed him out of high school.

Like it or not, Zook and his assistant coaches were well respected in the Florida high school coaching community and his firing is likely to shake things up greatly.

"I think it's a poor statement on (Florida's) part," Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland coach John Moronto said.

"If they think they're looking for a quick fix and a national championship, then they need to look around at the other teams that fell off for a year or two and quickly turned it back around and then won.

"I'm very disappointed, and I know others are, too, that they would make a change in such a short amount of time. I'm not a big Gator fan, nor am I fan of the Seminoles or Hurricanes, it's just the things that Ron Zook stands for, not just as a football coach but also has a person, that has me and a lot of people in the coaching community disappointed with this move."

And the aftershocks of the move have already started.

Mainland is home to two of Florida's key recruits - quarterback Jonathan Garner and cornerback Avery Atkins - and it didn't take long for other schools to pick up the phone and check and see if the Gator commitments might be willing to look around.

"I'm hoping that some of these recruiting coordinators at other schools don't try to use this to their advantage, but I know that they will," Moronto said.

"I talked to a few of them prior to this happening and they are calling again, and I'm not impressed with that. I'm sure that Miami and Florida State might not try to use this too much to their advantage, but I know others will try to capitalize and get after (Florida's) recruits."

It doesn't end there.

Williams, the nation's No. 1 recruit, said Florida is likely going to drop down his list some now that the change has been made.

"We really want stability in a coaching staff and we might not know who the next coach will be at Florida by the time Derrick decides," Dwight Williams, Derrick's father said.

"We need to talk to the athletic director to see if they have any answers. We really like the offense they run and the coaches we've met there, but they don't know what's going to happen with them, so how can we?"

There has even talk today from an assistant at Coffeyville that Nelson, who is considered one of the top junior college players in the nation, could end up looking elsewhere with Florida State being a possible destination, but the standout safety has not been available for comment quite yet.

But not all of the news has been bad news.

Jeff Estes, a mentor to both defensive end Vladimir Richard of Sunrise (Fla.) Piper and linebacker Gerald Williams of Lauderdale Lakes (Fla.) Boyd Anderson, said Florida still has a lot of positives to sell.

"I talked to Vladimir about it already this morning and he said nothings changed," Estes said. "We'll wait and see who they bring in. Florida is still a great place. Maybe they'll bring in a big name guy."

And that's likely to happen, but who that guy is going to be is still yet to be determined and likely won't be decided for quite some time. With the college football season just past the halfway mark and the NFL still a long way from being done, Florida's recruiting efforts likely will be stuck in idle for quite some time.

That will allow other teams to step in and work to take control of the Sunshine State. The most likely teams to profit from this move now will be Florida State and Miami, but look for other teams from the SEC, ACC and Big 12 to make a bigger impact in Florida this season.

And if the Gators aren't able to get a head coach in place by early December, it can definitely have a lasting effect on the future of the Gator program. The SEC is no place for a program to have an off year in recruiting, even when you're making a transition to a new coach.

If you miss in one class in the SEC, it can set you back for several years. Yes, indeed Zook's firing is bound to shake things up this recruiting season and could have a lasting effect in the future.

Rivals.com reporters Mike Farrell and Mark Wheeler contributed to this article.


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