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Big Ten notebook: Zook walks out after question about his future

BY MATT COZZI | NOVEMBER 16, 2011 7:20 AM

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Before his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Illinois head coach Ron Zook preceded to answer questions given one condition.

There were to be no questions about Zook's future. No opportunities to address rumors of his possible removal as head coach.

"It's not about me," he said. "It's not about our future. I think our players and our fans deserve that."

So when a reporter rattled off a question about possible distractions Illinois' players may have because of Zook's shaky job security, the seventh-year coach stuck to his word — and he walked out of the room.

The Illini began the season 6-0, but they have since lost four-straight games and appear to be headed for a low-tier bowl game with matchups against No. 15 Wisconsin and an improving Minnesota team coming up.

Thus, speculation has arisen regarding the potential firing of Zook following the Illini's remaining two games.

"I'll assess the situation, the whole body of work, at the end of the season," said first-year Athletics Director Mike Thomas, who came to Illinois from Cincinnati in August. "That's when we'll assess where we are as a program."

Zook is 34-49 overall at Illinois, 18-36 in the Big Ten since being hired in 2005. He's under contract through the 2013 season and earns $1.75 million per year.

Parity within the conference

Four teams remain in contention for first place in both the Legends and Leaders Divisions.

Michigan State, Michigan, Nebraska, and Iowa are battling for the Legends crown, and Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Purdue are still in the Leaders Division race. Additionally, Illinois is bowl eligible, and Northwestern is one win away from earning postseason eligibility.

In his weekly teleconference, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said the number of teams in divisional contention this season is a testament to the Big Ten's parity.

"I think we have great quality in this league," he said. "Anything can happen in this game. That's why you have to prepare so well from a mental standpoint before you play your opponent.

"There's a lot to play for and for a lot of teams."

Coaching icons stable one year, vanish the next

Rewind back to a year ago. What were the odds that neither Jim Tressel nor Joe Paterno would be on the sidelines for Saturday's game between Penn State and Ohio State?

Such is the case following two of the most prominent scandals in college-football history.

For the first time since 2001, the squads will oppose each other without Tressel or Paterno.

Buckeyes interim head coach Luke Fickell said in his weekly teleconference that he hasn't spoken to Penn State interim head coach Tom Bradley despite the recent tough times they have both endured.

"Neither one of us probably have the time to sit down," Fickell said. "I'm sure when it's all set and done — Tom and I know each other from recruiting trips and other things — it will be good for us to sit down and learn from each other."


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