Ron Zook does not want to talk about his future as Illinois head coach. And he really means it.
Zook opened his weekly news conference on Tuesday by saying he would only take football-related questions and that he would leave if anyone asked about his job status.
"It's not about me," he said. "It's not about my future. I think our players and our fans deserve that."
Well, no self-respecting group of journalists would let him off the hook that easily. So after Zook answered several other questions, the Chicago Tribune's Shannon Ryan asked him if he had to talk to his players about rumors about his situation to keep it from becoming a distraction. Zook stared at Ryan, shook his head and said, "You just couldn't let it go, could you Shannon?"
And with that, as promised, Zook walked out of his own news conference. (Video of the event can be found here).
Zook may not like it, and he may not answer questions about, but there's no way to stop the swirling speculation. It appeared that he had gotten off the hot this season after the Illini started 6-0 and entered both major polls. Since then, however, they have lost four straight and haven't scored a single point in the first half of any of those games. They've also struggled with turnovers and special teams, the latter of which is supposed to be Zook's specialty. With Wisconsin coming in this week and then a road game at improving Minnesota, Illinois is in danger of going from 6-0 to 6-6.
That, plus Zook's uninspiring 34-49 record in six-plus seasons in Champaign and the fact that the school hired a new athletic director (Mike Thomas) this fall, all combine to put Zook squarely on the hot seat. He is under contract through January 2014 and makes $1.75 million per year. That would put the school responsible for $3.5 million if it had to pay the rest of his deal as part of a buyout.
On the Big Ten coaches' teleconference later Tuesday, Zook said his players "are going to see how I act" while trying to deal with this losing streak. Zook clearly isn't going to talk about his job status. But that won't stop everybody else from doing so. The best thing Zook can do now is to somehow rally the Illini and win the last two games.