Beneath the headset



Southern California head coach Pete Carroll hugs quarterback John David Booty in the closing seconds of their game against UCLA on Dec. 1. Mark J. Terrill, The Associated Press

By Daniel Johnson

Ron Zook, Illinois

If finishing out the regular season 9-3 wasn’t enough to buck the moniker of a “recruiting” coach, for Ron Zook, taking his team to the Rose Bowl likely will be.

Since his turbulent years at Florida, Zook has had to deal with the stigma of being a great recruiter, but not as good with the X’s and O’s of the game. After only four victories in his first two years, it looked as if the cynics and skeptics were right. But Zook’s hard work and dedication paid off this year, leading Illinois to its best record since 2001 and first Rose Bowl trip since the 1983 season.

While Zook cringes at the thought of being called a “recruiting coach,” it is the fact that he can recruit so well that has greatly sped up the resurgence in Illinois football. Zook’s ability to convey himself and his vision so well to potential players has brought in five-star caliber talent.

Zook has had a long and distinguished coaching career, starting at Orrville High School in 1976, making stops at Ohio State, Tennessee, Florida and three NFL teams before taking the Illinois job.

Zook described his style of play as “wide open, puff o’ smoke come out of your tail and go, man, go.”

“We’re gonna play all these games, play them hard and have a good time doing it,” he added.

Zook’s nonstop coaching style has become well known in the coaching community, and his former colleagues have more than taken note of his coaching abilities.

“Ron has tremendous energy, commitment and drive to be successful,” former New Orleans Saints head coach Jim Haslett said. “He understands the game very well and can communicate to players on every level.”

Pete Carroll, USC

Pete Carroll has trouble sleeping at times.

“Sleeping’s overrated as far as I am concerned,” Carroll said in the TV special “In My Own Words: Pete Carroll.”

But for Carroll, sleep is something that he cannot afford. In his seventh year at the University of Southern California, Carroll has been working hard every year he has been in the program. Although USC has always been a great football school, it has thrived under Carroll, winning National Championships in 2003 and 2004 and four BCS bowl games throughout his tenure.

Even with the success, Carroll knows that he has to continue to work hard to stay on top of his game and college football.

“Anybody can stumble into (success),” Carroll said in the same interview. “I think it is way harder to stay on top.”

Carroll’s achievements in college football have been a new experience for him. He came to USC in 2000 after coaching in the NFL for five different teams. Carroll had moderate success in the pros, but nowhere near what he has had at USC.

In Carroll’s seven seasons on campus he has posted the highest winning percentage out of all active coaches with at least five years experience, at 84.2 percent.

Carroll’s inability to sleep at times is likely working in his favor, too.

“I really live my life thinking that something good is about to happen,” Carroll said. “And maybe it is because I’m ADD, you know? ADD is a beautiful thing because you never get bored.”