May 19, 2011

Three and out: Zook's security takes a hit

Here is this week's "Three And Out," a weekly feature that will provide a quick but opinionated take from Tom Dienhart on three hot topics.

1. Zook may be cooked. With Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther announcing this week that he will retire effective June 30, the Ron Zook watch is on. Guenther hired Zook in 2005 and has stood by him time and again, even when many program-watchers howled for a change. The Zook era has produced just two winning seasons and a 28-45 record (including 16-32 in the Big Ten) in six seasons. Despite a 5-7 record in 2008, after that season Guenther extended Zook's deal by one year, pushing it to January 2014. Illinois was 3-9 in 2009, and after that season, Guenther helped Zook reshape his staff, playing a big role in the hirings of offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. The shakeup worked, as Zook led the Fighting Illini to a bowl. But Zook's greatest backer soon will be gone, and it's safe to say the new athletic director probably will want to hire his own coach. That means Zook likely has no margin for error and needs to keep winning ... or else.

2. Lawyering up. I was disappointed to hear that Ohio State coach Jim Tressel has hired the Birmingham, Ala., law firm - Lightfoot, Franklin and White - that represented Auburn during the Cam Newton mess. Tressel's attorney will be Gene Marsh, who was a member of the NCAA infractions committee and specializes in compliance issues. What's it mean? Tressel is going to dig in his heels and fight, with no plans to resign. That's too bad. Facts are facts, and this is an undeniable one: Tressel lied to the NCAA. Want proof? He signed an NCAA document in September that said he had no knowledge of any NCAA violations. What is Tressel fighting? That he signed the document is tangible proof that he lied. And recent history tells us one of two things typically happen to coaches who lie to the NCAA: They get fired or they resign. What's funny is Tressel's attorney says part of his defense will center on Tressel's positive track record. Just because you are perceived to be a "swell" guy doesn't exonerate you from an offense you committed. Tressel may think he's being a bulldog about this, but his self-serving act of hiring big-shot lawyers in $1,000-suits only will hurt Ohio State in the long run. Tressel is on shaky ground and will be even if he survives this ordeal. And every recruit knows it.

3. Oh, my. The much-maligned WAC has seen ample change within the past year. Now there are reports that the conference will announce expansion plans June 14. Commissioner Karl Benson says the league eventually would like to grow to 12 in all sports except football. Boise State has left for the Mountain West. Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii will bolt for the MWC in the summer of 2012. Texas State, Texas-San Antonio and Denver, which has no football program, will come aboard in 2012. Possible additions include Seattle, Utah Valley State, Cal State-Bakersfield, Lamar, Montana, Montana State, Texas-Arlington, Sacramento State, Cal Poly-SLO and North Texas, which already has told the WAC "no" once. I wish I was making this up. But, alas, it's all true. It's sad to see what this once-proud conference is becoming.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for He can be reached at, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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