Big price tag attached to Zook's firing

November 28, 2011 (CHICAGO)

In this Intelligence Report: There is a sizable price tag attached to Zook's firing.

Ron Zook was fired and is now unemployed, but you won't see him standing at an intersection with a cup and cardboard sign. Zook is being paid to leave the state's flagship public university because he has two years left on his contract.

In legal terms they call it a buyout. By whatever name, in Ron Zook's case, it amounts to more than $2.5 million.

The University of Illinois football coach was fired after a Jekyll and Hyde season, winning the first six games and losing the last six.

But, In losing his job, ex-University of Illinois football coach Ron Zook will win $2.6 million so that the university can get rid of him well before his deal expires in 2014 and hire a new coach.

This is the second time Zook has collected a tidy sum for being fired. When the University of Florida -- another public institution -- canned him in 2004 he was paid almost $1.8 million to leave town with four years left on that contract.

Zook is among a half dozen coaches fired so far as the season winds down, all of whom will take tens of millions of dollars in buyouts from public schools. A survey last year found that 51 public universities from the six largest athletic conferences paid almost $40 million to get rid of their coaches.

Here in Illinois, Zook's firing -- and his pay to go away -- comes as the state's largest university recoils from hundreds of millions of dollars in funding cuts from Springfield.

With state college funding support reduced across the country, the longstanding practice of buying out losing coaches to make way for new ones is being re-evaluated at some universities. In the case of Ron Zook, U of I is not among them.

Illinois and other big-time athletic schools are quick to point out that they are self-sufficient and exist on sports revenue.

There are more than 65,000 state government workers in Illinois. With Zook deposed as the top wage earner in the state, there is now a new name atop the list, also a coach, also at U of I: basketball coach Bruce Weber, at $1.3 million a year.

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