The vultures are circling in Champaign-Urbana and Illinois coach Ron Zook is listed on nearly everybody's list of college coaches who are sitting on the proverbial "hot seat." He is expected to be fired after the 2010 season if he doesn't turn around the ill fortunes that have beset the Illini program in the last two years.
But it is too early to call for changes. The Illini must get off to a good start on the field, of course, because that always has an effect on recruiting. But Zook has taken some positive steps to retool his program and recruiting, which was hurt by poor performances in 2008 and 2009, is showing signs of bouncing back.
Lack of talent in the Chicago area has been a factor, forcing Zook and his staff to recruit nationally. If the Illini get off to a good start, they should benefit because they have a better recruiting staff than in recent years and should begin to sign some big-name prospects from the Midwest.
Zook has laid the groundwork for a good recruiting year. Sure, the Illini have lost some players in the early going. But I see their name popping up everywhere across the nation. They are in on the right kids. There is a lot of interest among players who are waiting to see if the program is heading North instead of South. Winning has a way of changing minds.
At the moment, Illinois has 13 commitments, including running back Josh Ferguson of Joliet Catholic, 6-3, 260-pound offensive lineman Tony Durkin of Andrew and 6-5, 240-pound defensive tackle Chris O'Connor of Andrew.
Best of the out-of-staters are defensive back Carl Williams of Jacksonville, Fla., defensive back Zeph Grimes of Bamberg, S.C., and 6-3, 292-pound offensive lineman Ted Karras of Indianapolis, Ind.
Reilly O'Toole, who quarterbacked Wheaton-Warrenville South to a state championship last season, is a sleeper with great size (6-4, 215) and athletic ability, a much better prospect than perceived. The same goes for defensive back J.T. Thornton of Belle Glade, Fla., one of the top producing high schools in the country, wide receiver Marquise Mosley of Tyler, Texas, and 6-5, 315-pound offensive lineman Chris Boles of Toledo, Ohio.
Zook still needs to land a difference-maker or two to satisfy his critics, as much as he needs a 9-3 season instead of 3-9, but the addition of an improved staff on the field and on the recruiting trail has put him in a position to do that.