One morning in April wide receiver Taylor Jacobs looked up from a
weight bench and saw new Gators coach Ron Zook peering down at
him. "He was asking me how many reps I'd done, and I called him
out," says Jacobs, a senior. "So he brushes me aside, gets down
on the bench in his starched shirt and khakis, and punches a
bunch of reps. The guy is no joke."
The rest of the college football world might need some
convincing. Although he has no head coaching experience beyond
high school, the 48-year-old Zook was hired in January to succeed
Steve Spurrier, who finally made the jump to the NFL after 12
years at Florida. Zook was an assistant under Spurrier from 1991
through '95 and spent the last two years as the New Orleans
Saints' defensive coordinator.
Though Zook's high-energy approach is vastly different from
Spurrier's aloof style, much about Florida's trademark wide-open
offense will remain the same. "My idea is to build on this team's
existing strengths," says Zook, "and that's throwing the
football." Florida will continue to air it out with junior
quarterback Rex Grossman, who led the nation in passing with
354.2 yards per game, and Jacobs (18.7 yards per catch).
Grossman's precise passing--his 170.8 efficiency rating was the
best in the country--should help settle an inexperienced group of
receivers, and senior Earnest Graham (650 rushing yards and nine
TDs in 2001) can be used as something more than an accessory at
tailback. A new multiple 4-3 defense, which first-year defensive
coordinator John Thompson brought from Arkansas, features an
aggressive secondary, led by two-time All-SEC free safety Todd
The task of continuing Florida's high-flying success may be
hefty, but Zook isn't about to buckle under the pressure. "I'm
not another Steve Spurrier," says Zook, "but we're still going to
be one of the most exciting teams in the nation, and we're still
going to win a lot of games." --K.K.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID DUROCHIK 8 IS ENOUGH The steady, experienced Grossman, 2001's top-rated quarterback, is the right person to run Zook's attack.
2001 RECORD: 10-2 (6-2, 2nd in SEC East)
FINAL RANKING: No. 3 AP, No. 3 coaches' poll
Touchdown passes for the Gators since 1990, most of any school
over that span. Florida State is second with 330.
An opposing coach's view
The Gators have a ton of talent, especially on offense
"Rex Grossman throws the best deep ball in the country. He'll pull
the trigger to the right guy every time.... The two games they
lost, tailback Earnest Graham didn't play. He was injured most of
the season with a sprained ankle.... Wideout Taylor Jacobs is
physical when the ball is in the air.... They've got at least
nine NFL players on that offense.... Todd Johnson is a star at
free safety. When he is in position to make plays, he makes them.
He's a sure tackler and has good hands."
Aug. 31 ALA.-BIRMINGHAM
Sept. 7 MIAMI
21 at Tennessee
Oct. 5 at Mississippi
Nov. 2 GEORGIA*
9 at Vanderbilt
16 SOUTH CAROLINA
30 at Florida State