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Limbo stage

Firing a coach, then keeping him on, always creates a tense situation

Posted: Thursday October 28, 2004 3:04PM; Updated: Thursday October 28, 2004 4:10PM
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Arash Markazi: Zook's caught in limbo stage
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I wonder how soon-to-be Gators coach Ron Zook addressed his team before his fate was announced Monday. Maybe something like this?

"So guys, I've got some good news and some bad news," Zook says with a half grin. "How about the good news first. God knows we could use some after last weekend. Well, it's official, I'm still your coach!"

Applause and high fives  between players and coaches.

"Yep, coach Zook's office is still open for business," he says laughing as he gives a used-car-salesman-like two-gun salute with both his index fingers.

"So what's the bad news coach?" a player in the back of the meeting hall asks.

"Oh yeah, I forgot," he says. "I've been fired."

Confused? Yeah, so am I whenever these kinds of things go down.

It's one thing to be a lame-duck coach and have the possibility of being fired looming; it's a different story to be fired but still coach your team.

Zook will be a less funny version of Milton from Office Space during his last four games at Florida, quietly asking for his team's attention and his stapler while Florida officials ignore him and pass the cake to Steve Spurrier.

Fired coaches still coaching their team through the end of the season is nothing new. In fact, that's happened twice in New York within the past year with Giants coach Jim Fassell and Mets manager Art Howe. Even so, the phenomenon amazes me.

What could possibly be the advantage of keeping a fired coach on board? Motivation for a turnaround? Hardly. The only advantage I can see is to let everyone know that no matter how well you finish, there's going to be changes.

It's a situation in which management almost wants the team to fail so the new coach won't have to inherit a team that suddenly wins four straight and finishes with a bowl win (as Florida might do).

When Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley announced that Zook had been fired he said, "It would be inappropriate for (Zook) not to finish the season. It would be inappropriate for the kids, too. We didn't think that would have been right."

Yeah, but firing Zook with four, possibly five, games left in the season is appropriate? Asking Zook to coach the team as you wine and dine Spurrier is appropriate? Expecting fans to stay supportive on a season you essentially gave up on is appropriate?

I don't think so.

Week Sauce

Let's open up the bottle and pour out the week that was.

FRIDAY -- The Arena Football League's Grand Rapids Rampage sends season-ticket holders a roll of toilet paper with "1-15" (their record last season) printed on each sheet. What better way to put a crappy season behind you again and again?

SATURDAY -- Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber says the league's goal isn't just to survive but to dominate. "We have no doubt," says Garber, "we can be the dominant sport in the United States in due time." Excuse me barkeep -- can I have a glass of whatever Mr. Garber is drinking.

SUNDAY -- While shopping in West Hollywood, Paris Hilton tells reporters, "I've got a new man and I'm head over heels in love. I adore him; he's so hot. His name is Mark Philippoussis." Hilton then pulled out a topless picture of the tennis star and showed it to gathering paparazzi. Wonder if Philipoussis will do the same with a Hilton picture when he confirms their relationship?

MONDAY -- Washington Wizards management announces that it will host five "Singles Nights" during the upcoming season, including a celebrity dating game in which one lucky fan can win a date with Wizards center Brendan Haywood. I'm guessing Haywood would like to give the Antonio Davis treatment to the marketing genius who came up with this idea.

TUESDAY -- Michigan and Ohio State announce that their annual football game will now be referred to as the SBC Classic for the next two years. No word yet if the game will be played at the Valencia Country Club golf course where the past four SBC Classics were played.

WEDNESDAY -- In a scene almost as memorable as an Ashlee Simpson Saturday Night Live appearance, the Boston Red Sox win the World Series and make the Curse of the Bambino as over as Ben Affleck's movie career.

Screen Play

This week's encounter between athlete and celebrity gives us an epic battle between Johnny Damon and Fabio to see which longhaired hunk is having the better career.

Damon's hair started to get long last season, but nothing could have prepared the folks in Boston for Damon's new look when he came to spring training with shoulder-length hair and a full beard. "Was he an extra in The Passion of the Christ?" asked Paul Molitor. Despite complaints from hair stylists and some of the ladies around Boston, Damon had a career year, with a grand slam in Game 7 of the ALCS that finished off the Yankees and a leadoff homer in Game 4 of the World Series.

Meanwhile, Fabio, the internationally famous model/actor whose long hair and bulging biceps have graced the covers of countless trashy romance novels, has recently launched a women's outerwear collection. If you haven't seen the Fabio line, that's because it's sold exclusively at Sam's Club, a club for which Fabio seems to be the last member. Our long-haired friend also made a cameo appearance in ads for ESPN's Sunday Countdown. It's clear that while Fabio may have the advantage in women's attire, Damon career is headed for bigger and better things.

The Six-Pack

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In honor of the firing of Zook, our weekly six-pack, brought to you this week by Newcastle Brown Ale (England), gives us The Top 6 Lame Duck Coaches Who Are Still Coaching.

6. Gary Barnett, Colorado football -- How this guy still has a job after all the scandal his team has gone through is as mysterious as Ashton Kutcher's rise to fame.

5. Keith Gilbertson, Washington football -- The Huskies are used to playing meaningful games in the winter. Not this season.

4. Lenny Wilkens, New York Knicks -- What's the over/under on the NBA's winningest and losingest coach being replaced by Isiah Thomas before the All-Star break?

3. Rick Adelman, Sacramento Kings -- Wasn't this team supposed to win the championship at least twice by now?

2. Dennis Erickson, San Francisco 49ers -- From five Super Bowl titles to top five picks, Erickson has made the 49ers more of a laughingstock these days than the Golden State Warriors in the Bay Area.

1. Dave Wannstedt, Miami Dolphins -- Is Wannstedt's firing not the worst-kept secret in sports?

I've Got Mail

Maybe I am the only person reading you, but I was wondering if you are holding out on us regarding the "Whatever happened to..." section of your column. I want to know too! -- John Shear, Chicago

Well, John, it's probably you, my mom and my brother, but I must admit that I have been holding out on you and the family, so here's some updates that have been long overdue. Let's start with Sam Bowie, one of the greatest busts in draft history. The former Kentucky star is still doing radio work for the Wildcats and was at Midnight Madness with Ashley Judd a couple weeks ago. Former Miami Heat center Rony Seikaly and supermodel wife Elsa Benitez were allowed to buy front-row season tickets after initially being denied following Shaq's trade to Miami. Ironically, Shaq's 20,000-square foot Star Island home in Miami was once owned by Seikaly.

Whatever Happened To ...

Jim Harbaugh ...? You know, the man who was chewed out by Mike Ditka in Chicago before leading the Indianapolis Colts to the brink of the Super Bowl in 1996. Harbaugh was last seen holding a clipboard and playing in zero games for the Carolina Panthers in 2001.

(Cue the late, great voice of Unsolved Mysteries' Robert Stack) If you have any information that could lead to the discovery of Jim Harbaugh, please contact The Hot Read.

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