Players have adopted Ron Zook's work ethic, and it shows on the field.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 28, 2002
GAINESVILLE -- Florida isn't the kind of team that overwhelms you with flair. It isn't a flashy, showboat kind of group.
The Gators come, they play and then they go home.
Nothing fancy, it's as simple as that.
With one game remaining in the regular season, look closely and you'll recognize this as a team coached by Ron Zook.
His penchant for hard work and a no-nonsense approach to getting things done is what the first-year Florida coach is known for.
The 2002 version of the Gators has slowly evolved into a mirror image of that philosophy.
"We don't need a lot of talking or going out of our way to show people anything," linebacker Bam Hardmon said. "We just go out, work hard and let the rest take care of itself."
While this new version of Florida football might take some getting used to for Gator fans, Zook likes what he sees.
"I'd like to think so," he said when asked if the Gators have adopted his style and personality.
Inevitably, he said, that's usually what happens.
"I made a comment to (athletic director) Jeremy (Foley) my first or second year here that the football team is as Coach Spurrier is," Zook said. "I think every head coach I've ever been around, the team has a tendency to take on the personality of the head coach. ... It's a relaxed atmosphere, but it's a working atmosphere."
Spurrier's teams clearly reflected his demeanor. Extremely confident, even cocky. Daring and sometimes flashy.
He might as quickly throw a 40-yard pass on fourth-and-1 as run for it. The Gators had a swagger, whether real or perceived, and a commanding presence.
They dominated the 1990s, and fans came to expect to win and win big.
If Florida defeats Florida State on Saturday night in Tallahassee, the Gators will have their 13th consecutive nine-win season.
But after Florida's four-point win over unranked Vanderbilt three weeks ago, even Zook acknowledged that this team is being judged more on style than substance -- something he and the coaching staff find unfair.
"They're not a flashy group," said special teams coach Jerry Odom, who played for the Gators from 1987-1990 and also coached under Spurrier. "They're a work-ethic, get-it-done, let's-try-to-get-better-every-day group. I think how your seniors are is a lot of times how maybe the personality of the team is. And we've got a great group of seniors who work hard every day."
It isn't that Florida hasn't had any flash this season. There occasionally have been trick plays, like a reverse pass to Rex Grossman that went for 21 yards against South Carolina two weeks ago. Or the fake field goal that holder Jeff Whitaker overthrew to wide-open running back Ran Carthon as he headed into the end zone. And Zook has taken his shot at fourth-and-1 plays.
Early in the season when the Gators struggled, they went back to the drawing board and came out as the working class guys.
Out went the long passes that were leading to more interceptions than completions and the attempts to finesse opponents. In came a more conservative, hard-nosed approach -- and the motto of keep the chains moving. It ended a two-game losing streak and led to four straight victories.
"This team went through a learning process and that was best for the team," receivers coach Dwayne Dixon said. "We did some flashy stuff early and then we got to a point where we needed to be more consistent, so we went to that realm of thinking, to make sure we keep the chains moving. When the opportunity arises for us to do the deep routes, we'll do them."
Its defense, which struggled early, also has flourished. It is ranked No.3 in the nation in pass defense (145.3). "I don't think there is a lot of flash to this group, but I don't think there are a lot of guys that have a lot of egos," defensive coordinator John Thompson said. "It's not a whole lot of me, me, me. It's about the team. They are a great group."