Zook ends press conference over job question
Deletes part of Ron Zook's quote in sixth paragraph. With AP Photos.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Ron Zook opened his weekly news conference by warning reporters he would walk out if they asked about his job security. He ended it by keeping his word.
The Illini have lost four straight games following their 6-0 start. The most recent loss, to Michigan at home on Saturday, was followed by a weekend of off-field trouble that included starting linebacker Trulon Henry being shot in the hand two other players getting arrested in another incident.
With No. 15 Wisconsin coming to town Saturday, Zook said he wanted to focus on football.
"I want to make one thing clear before we get going here,'' Zook told reporters Tuesday. "This thing's about our football team, it's about the team that we're playing, about the things going on with our football team. it's not about me, it's not about my future. ... If you feel compelled to talk about that, then my part will be over with.''
After about 20 minutes of questions, a reporter asked Zook if he had counseled his players on fielding questions about his situation and preventing them from becoming a distraction.
"You just couldn't let it go, could you?'' Zook asked the reporter before walking away.
The 27-year-old Henry was one of three people shot at a party near campus early Sunday. He and Zook have said that Henry was called to the party by other, younger players looking for help after a fight broke out.
The two other players, freshmen Jordan Frysinger and Kenny Knight, were arrested after a fight Saturday night. Neither has played this season, and Zook has suspended them. Champaign County officials say neither has been charged with a crime.
Zook has come under increasing scrutiny as the losses have mounted. Many fans booed as the game against Michigan slipped away, ending in a 31-14 defeat.
Athletic director Mike Thomas did not respond to a request for an interview form The Associated Press but said this week he will evaluate Zook's performance at the end of the season. Zook has two years remaining on his contract at $1.3 million a year. If he was fired at the end of the season, the university would have to pay him the full $2.6 million buyout.
Defensive end Whitney Mercilus acknowledged that life for the Illini has been "a little chaotic'' the past few days, but said the team tries not to pay attention to outside criticism or coverage of the team's struggles.
"Nobody else understands what's going on in the locker room,'' he said.
The problems include an offense that's been all but shut down. Illinois was averaging 34.6 points a game during the win streak has been reduced to 11.3 game since then. The Illini haven't scored in the first half of any of the four losses.
Zook promised changes when Illinois takes the field Saturday. He said he wouldn't provide many details, but said the team is working to get quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase to look beyond leading receiver A.J. Jenkins to some of his other targets. Zook said Scheelhaase sometimes locks in on Jenkins.
"That's one of the things we'd like to change this week,'' Zook said. "Spread the ball around.''
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