Illini fire 4 assistants after nine-loss season

BY foxsports • December 16, 2009

Illinois fired almost half of Ron Zook's staff Friday but said the fifth-year head coach will keep his job in spite of a 3-9 season - the second-straight losing year for the Illini.

First-year offensive coordinator Mike Schultz, quarterbacks coach Kurt Beathard and receivers coach Jim Pry were all fired, as was special teams coach Mike Woodford.

``Obviously we are not happy with the way the past two seasons have gone, but we believe in this program and its ability to rebound with the necessary decisions,'' Zook said in a prepared statement from the school.

Athletics department spokesman Kent Brown said that neither Zook nor athletic director Ron Guenther would take questions from reporters Friday.

Guenther said in October, at halftime of a loss to Purdue that dropped Illinois to 1-6, that Zook would not be fired. But he said other changes were coming.

Guenther has been silent since then, despite speculation about Zook's future following the Illini's season-ending 53-52 home loss to Fresno State.

Zook, who makes about $1.5 million a year, received a contract extension last summer through January 2014. But since a 9-4 season in 2007 that ended at the Rose Bowl, his Illini have gone 8-16.

Phone messages left for Beathard and Pry by The Associated Press were not immediately returned. Calls to a number listed for Woodford were not answered. No current listing for Schultz was found.

There was no word on filling the open positions. Five assistant coaches remain on Zook's staff.

Schultz, who the school says was the highest-paid Illinois assistant at $260,000 a year, was hired in January to replace offensive coordinator Mike Locksley.

Locksley had been Juice Williams' mentor through the starting quarterback's first three seasons but left to become head coach at New Mexico.

Schultz brought an impressive resume from 11 seasons at TCU. The Horned Frogs in 2008 set school records for points scored and touchdowns. He was the offensive guru for four of the five highest-scoring teams in school history.

Illinois' offense entered the season with great expectations. Williams and a group of receivers led by highly regarded junior Arrelious Benn were supposed to roll up yards and points and lead the team back from last year's 5-7 disappointment.

Instead, the Illini averaged 16 points over their first seven games before the offense started to click.

Illinois averaged 35 points a game over its last five games, going 2-3 but scoring 36 points at Cincinnati and 52 in the loss to Fresno State.

The defense was among the Big Ten's weakest, giving up a conference-worst 30 points a game.

Pry just finished his fourth season at Illinois and Beathard and Woodford each coached three seasons in Champaign.

Woodford, the special teams coach, joined Zook after working with him at three different stops - Kansas in the 1980s, the New Orleans Saints in 2001 and while Zook was head coach at Florida.

Special teams, which Zook coached for the Pittsburgh Steelers for three seasons in the 1990s, have been a sore spot in each of the past three seasons.

``These are good, good people,'' Zook said in the news release. ``These are the most difficult days in our business. I really wish all of them the very best in any future endeavors.''

In addition to the coaching turnover, trouble has popped up among the players since the season ended, too.

The university has confirmed that tight end Hubie Graham and receiver A.J. Jenkins will transfer and another receiver, Cordale Scott, is expected to leave. All three are top members of Zook's 2008 recruiting class.

Benn, too, is expected to skip his senior season to enter the NFL draft.

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