GREEN BAY — Ron
Zook speaks with what seems like a perpetually hoarse voice. It could
be from all the yelling and cajoling that comes with having coached
football for more than three decades.
So Zook's resume
might look odd, at least at first, for being away from the sideline
for two years after getting fired as the head coach at the University
of Illinois following the 2011 season. He returned to coaching in
2014, when the Green Bay Packers hired him as a special teams
Now Green Bay's
special teams coordinator, Zook is back in his element — and he's
savoring every minute.
heaven," Zook said Wednesday.
His job with the
Packers is to improve special teams play, especially after two
mistakes haunted the team during last season's NFC Championship game.
The Seattle Seahawks converted a fake field goal for a touchdown, and
later recovered an onside kick. A 16-0 lead at halftime turned into a
28-22 loss in overtime.
Zook was promoted to
replace the fired Shawn Slocum. Some veteran players who were
mainstays on special teams have left Green Bay, too. There are new
arrivals, particularly rookie receiver-returner Ty Montgomery, who
could be thrust into key roles.
"A lot of young
guys. A lot of young guys," Zook said. "The one thing about
special teams, they didn't come here, we didn't draft them or bring
them in as free agents necessarily to be on special teams."
Early in camp, the
focus is on terminology and teaching techniques on skills like
protecting a kicker. Coach Mike McCarthy said the team has added some
new special teams drills.
There is an emphasis
on pace and tempo, which is a focus on offense, too. It might look
even chaotic, sometimes, as players shuffle from drill to drill, and
the coaching staff continues to assess players.
Punter Tim Masthay, a
six-year veteran, said Zook seems to be always on the move.
efficient guy. A lot of great energy," Masthay said. "He's
always talking about moving fast, doing things fast, and the practices
are run that way."
But not everything
"The way we
process and the way we push forward and try to remain creative staying
true to the fundamentals, that's all the same," McCarthy said
last week. "Ron and (assistant special teams coach Jason Simmons)
have done an excellent job to this point."
Zook appreciates the
opportunity. A coaching career that began in college in 1979 as a
defensive backs assistant at Murray State includes stops in the NFL as
an assistant or coordinator in Pittsburgh, Kansas City and New
Orleans. With the Saints, he was defensive coordinator from 2000-01
while McCarthy was the team's offensive coordinator.
But Zook may be
perhaps known for head-coaching stints at Florida (2002-4) and
Illinois (2005-11), having been fired from both.
"At Florida, I
was the first coach that had the, you know, the fireronzook.com,"
Zook recalled. "Now listen to me, they started that before I
landed — before I landed."
The two-year break
from coaching began in 2012. Zook on Wednesday remembered advice from
former NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer that every coach should take a
year's sabbatical every five years.
"The first year,
I needed out," Zook said.
By Year 2, he started
missing the camaraderie and the players. The time away did allow him
to reflect, to "find out about yourself," he said.
Looking back, Zook
said, "I mean there were so many things, particularly at Florida,
at both places. There ain't nothing I could have done.
Illinois' a job, that it didn't matter who's there. Put Nick Saban
there, and it didn't matter. It's just that those are hard jobs, that,
you know, it's a grind every day, it's a grind every day," Zook
added. "And the attitude is, you know the people ... (it's)
never" going to change.
Now in Green Bay,
Zook seems reinvigorated.