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Coaching Q&A: Ron Zook

Throughout the football season, will offer you various opportunities to a sit down for a Q&A session with a former coach. It will feature a nationally known coach or one more closely associated with Auburn.

We will post the featured guest’s name in the forums and you post your questions. We will pick 10 to 15 of the better questions.

This week’s guest is former Florida and Illinois coach and current CBS Sports analyst Ron Zook.

What are the top three jobs in America and why?

It depends on what criteria you use. Look at Florida State in the 1990's. 14 straight years of top five finishes. Right now Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Ohio State and Michigan would all be considered top jobs. People on West coast look at things differently. They see USC as a top job. Oregon has become a top job. I think it changes. Maybe not so much before, but now it changes. If it's winning, look at who's winning. From a coaching perspective, you look at recruiting base, quality of life (where you live), facilities and those sorts of things.

How difficult is it for the players and holdover coaches to switch systems on both sides of the ball? How long will it take before the players and coaches are comfortable and performing at a high level in the new systems?

The first thing is that the coaches have to get comfortable with each other. You have to be in heat of the battle to get to that. Players are resilient. If coaches are good teachers, the players will get better and better. Football is a reaction game. The more you play and the more you do things, the better you are. Overall, it depends on how young the team is and how good a teachers the coaches are. You have to do what the players can do. Sometimes you have coaches with great knowledge who aren't great teachers.

panic1013 & wareagle28mg
How does fan dissent and disapproval affect the team and staff? How damaging was the website that was launched when you were hired at Florida?

It's damaging because of the negativity. People use it in recruiting. It sucks the energy out of the players. You have to be as positive as you can be with the players. People can say and write what they want: right, wrong or indifferent. Kids are impressionable. It hurts recruiting. Kids make decisions based on a feeling. Negativity kills you in recruiting - especially if your recruiting base is close to home.

What are the top things a program needs to have in order to be successful?

1. Tradition is very important. Some teams are able to win through lean years because that's what they know how to do. It's what's expected. Losing is a habit just like winning. If you're in a historically losing program, you have to teach them how to win.

2. Recruiting. You have to have education, tradition, facilities: something that will draw in student-athletes. Academics are really important because you have to show the parents it's a place their kid can be successful and happy.

3. People are a big thing. You have to have great people. You have to know who's gonna bail when you start taking on water.

AUDUckhunter & Topcat
What's it like to be able to go water skiing whenever you want instead of coaching during the fall for the first time in years? Do you see yourself back in coaching sometime soon?

It's a lot of fun. You don't have that sick feeling if things don't go right. In coaching, you can't get away from it because it's a 24/7/365 job - especially in recruiting. It's like being the parent of 100 kids. You have to help them though situations that arise.

It's fun to go ski. Denise and I were on the wave-runner at sunset the other night. We've never done that during football season.

I love coaching. If the right opportunity presents itself, I'd be interested, but it's not something I have to have to be happy. It's a tough profession. You have to have the administration behind you. [/b]

How long can a coach be away from the sidelines and still be considered a valid candidate for coaching jobs?

I don't know that there's a time limit. Bob Davie, Dick Vermeil. Both of those guys were out for a long time, but they were still in involved in football because they were in TV. I've learned things just doing this TV gig. Its the first time I've had a chance to really see all the things going on in college football that I never had time to follow before.

RunninAmuck & auclassof94
Are you surprised by Auburn's abysmal start?
A little bit. I think people thought the defensive front would be similar to the 1980's when they were so good. That hasn't been the base so far. Senior leadership has to be there right now. Coaches have to lead players. There's lots of noise in system. Thats where leadership and coaching comes in.

Which SEC venue is the toughest to play?

They're all tough. The loudest game I've ever coached in was at Auburn in 1993 when I was coaching at Florida. We lost 38-35 and had five turnovers on offense. We were up 10-0 and we were ready to go up 17-0 when Calvin Jackson took an interception 95 yards. That's the loudest stadium I've ever been in. 1991 against FSU in the Swamp was loud too, but Auburn was louder. It was louder than New Orleans and Minnesota in the domes.

Would you hire Ron Sanders again?
Absolutely. Got to get a job first!

Is it difficult to make the transition from coordinator to head coach? Does it make you more hands-on with that side of the ball?

Not really. I think being a defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator in NFL helped me because I really understood those two phases. It actually allowed me to be more involved with the offense and have a better understanding of what was going on in that room and with the quarterback. If you don't have a quarterback and an offense that can move the ball, it's hard to win games.

Any good stories you could share from being on Johnny Majors' staff at Tennessee?

I learned a lot from Coach Majors. He was a tough man to work for sometimes. I learned a lot of lessons. He was tough, but if you really listened to what he was saying, he just wanted you to be the best you could be.

What is more important to you - significant experience or significant talent? How long will you allow a veteran player to fail to produce before you replace him with a more talented but inexperienced player?

I don't wait long. Who gives your team the best chance to win? If he's an older player that you have more confidence in, that's one thing. But if you have a younger player who's a gamer that will give you a better shot to win, you make the move. It's about the team. Who can help you win? We never worried about what year a player was. Obviously you don't want to play freshmen, but we had to at Florida and at Illinois because they gave us the best chance to win.

Which NFL team did you enjoy working for the most and why?

I was fortunate because Pittsburgh and Kansas city are such revered franchises.

Lamar Hunt started AFL. The Rooneys were great, great people. Mr. Benson was a little different. He had a different way of doing things, but we had success. We won the first playoff game there. All three were great. I was fortunate to be in those situations.

Kiehl Frazier is, admittedly, watching the rush, which is causing problems with his accuracy and decision making. Have you dealt with young QBs in the past with this issue? If so, was it easy to fix and once fixed was there a dramatic improvement in QB play?

Every young quarterback has pressure on him. That's why you go to an Auburn to play at that level. A lot of guys start out watching the rush. It affects accuracy and it affects your reads. You can't buy experience. Most guys will get better - eventually. Once they stop, the level of play goes up. Some guys never quit looking at the rush. It's like that damn hunting dog that won't go get the bird.

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