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Gators hire Zook

QB Grossman will wait to make decision on future.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 9, 2002

[AP photo]
Ron Zook, right, was the defensive coordinator for the Saints for two seasons.
GAINESVILLE -- After being turned down by his first two candidates, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley found a new football coach.

Ron Zook, the New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator and former Florida assistant, is expected to be named coach today. Zook will replace Steve Spurrier, who resigned Friday. This is Zook's first head coaching job.

Now, the biggest question may be, what will Florida's Heisman Trophy runner-up do?

Maureen Grossman, mother of quarterback Rex Grossman, said the decision came so late Tuesday that her son had not had time to make a decision about whether he will remain at the school.

"He's going to talk with Zook (today) to find out what's what," Maureen Grossman said.

Meet Ron Zook
The Orlando Sentinel reported Zook will get a five-year deal estimated at $1.5-million a season, about $600,000 less than Spurrier made.

Zook's hiring caps off a tumultuous week for the Gators.

The job that Foley said last week should be considered "among the Top 5" most coveted in America was turned down by two high-profile candidates before Foley headed to New Orleans on Tuesday to meet with Zook. Monday, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said he would stay with the Sooners. Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said early Tuesday he also would not pursue the Florida job.

"I listened to him as a friend, as a guy that I respect an awful lot, and listened to what the University of Florida had to offer," Shanahan said after meeting with Foley.

The Broncos coach said he was concerned whether owner Pat Bowlen wanted him to stay.

"I think I've got the best job in pro sports," said Shanahan, who has four years left on a contract with Denver that pays him nearly $4-million a year. "I've got a job to do and I would not want to walk out or leave with an 8-8 season."

When Spurrier resigned, Foley said his search would be conducted privately, but expeditiously.

Although Foley and Zook are close friends, the hiring comes as a surprise. Zook was the Gators defensive coordinator and coached defensive backs from 1991-93, but never has been a head coach.

At Florida, he was demoted by Spurrier to special-teams coordinator and nickelbackers coach in 1994. He was given the title of associate head coach in 1995, then left the school to begin his current six-year run as an NFL assistant. Foley returned to Gainesville on Tuesday night after spending several hours with Zook in New Orleans. He has said he did not offer the job to Stoops or Shanahan, and both coaches said they never received a formal offer.

Candidates reportedly included Rick Neuheisel of Washington and Mike Bellotti of Oregon. Officials at Washington said Foley did not contact them about talking with Neuheisel. Harvard coach Tim Murphy also was mentioned as a possible candidate early Tuesday.

"I'm sure he's got a number of guys he's going to pursue," Shanahan said. "Like anyone, I'm sure he's got a pecking order, and he's going to make a decision after he talks to a number of guys."

Whether the hiring has ended the uncertainty facing players and assistant coaches remains to be seen. Offensive line coach Jimmy Ray Stephens has been contacted by North Carolina about interviewing for its vacant offensive line coach position.

"It's really tough, especially for those of us who have been around here a long time," Stephens said. "I'd like to keep coaching here so for now I'm hanging on, trying to wait and see who they hire here.

"Ron was a great guy when he was here," Stephens added late Tuesday. "I haven't heard from him, but I'd like to. I need a job."

At this point, Foley's biggest concern isn't public opinion or even keeping big-time alumni from going into a panic. It's the Florida players, including Grossman.

Grossman said on Monday that although he would love to stay in school, his decision may rest with the new hire. The sophomore quarterback and several of his teammates including Orange Bowl MVP Taylor Jacobs, have confessed to being shaken by the potential changes.

Underclassmen have until Friday to declare for the NFL draft.

"I was coming back until this," Grossman said Monday. "I just have to know what is going on first. I need all the information I can get, and I'll make a decision from there. I'd love to come back and play. I'm not ready to leave, but it may be the best decision for me in the end."

Then there are potential Florida players.

The open period for recruiting also begins Friday, which means high school players will begin making official visits in the next three weekends. Foley said when the search began that he wanted to have a coach in place by then.

"The next coach is going to have a hard time following (Spurrier)," Grossman said. "He's definitely left a legend."

While the Gators gained a coach Tuesday, they lost an assistant.

Assistant offensive coordinator Buddy Teevens is expected to be named coach at Stanford today, replacing Tyrone Willingham, who left to become coach at Notre Dame. Teevens is a former coach at Dartmouth, Maine and Tulane.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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