Symonds: Zook needs to hold players accountable -

Symonds: Zook needs to hold players accountable

If you saw the Illinois game Saturday, and judging by the television agreement involved in the "neutral site" game with Western Michigan, you didn't, you should be disgusted.

A Big Ten team shouldn't even be playing a MAC team two hours from said opponent's campus, but that's a logistical situation involved in the administration, and I could write much more about that, so I'll save it for another day.

My problem is at the team level. Saturday's 23-17 loss to the Western Michigan Broncos at Ford Field was one that was unemotional, uninspired and never should have even been close.

The defeat, tabbed the "November Nightmare" by the WMU athletic department, was exactly that for the Orange and Blue, and it was a microcosm of this season.

In its losses to Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Broncos -- all games Illinois should have won -- an Illinois team came out of the locker room with no emotion and that showed exactly on the field.

It starts with the coaches. After Saturday's game, Coach Ron Zook said that in the next fourteen days "we'll find out what kind of team we have." We all know what kind of team you have Ron. It's one that can't seem to get itself up on every Saturday for the games that good teams get up for. So it is hard to classify your team, as you have many times this season, as a "good football team."

With the talent level of this team, there is no reason games like Saturday's should end in defeat. Zook and his staff have brought in an immense influx of talent and football skills in their four years here, but for some reason these coaches can't get their team to play up to that talent level week in and week out.

This is a talented team. There is no questioning that. But this is not a good team. Good teams can get themselves up to play no matter the opponent because they know what is at stake, and because they don't want to face their fiery head coach after the game.

Well Illini fans better pine for players who realize what is at stake because they don't have a fiery coach. Illini players have called Zook a "player's coach" on many occasions, and, from my seat in the press box, it seems to be like Zook is letting the players run his program. Heck, one of his wide receivers broke the jaw of a teammate after last weekend's emotional win over Iowa in an altercation and started Saturday's game. If you call that control you don't know what control is.

Illinois has a coach who after all of these revolting losses keeps telling his team how good it is and doesn't hold them accountable. If Zook would hold his players accountable rather than telling them that they're still a good football team and babying them after one of these losses, this Illinois team would develop a thick skin and finally take some pride in what they do every fall Saturday.

In college football -- and football in general for that matter -- the teams that win are the ones that know that they're going to win, and will do whatever it takes to make sure that they won't lose.

They develop a swagger, and Illinois' absence of one is glaring. You look at the top teams in the country -- the Alabamas, the USCs of the early '00s and the Miamis of the '90s -- and sure they are and were immensely talented, but they refused to lose. They took pride in their programs and pride in themselves to refuse to lose.

This Illinois team may have the talent, but until they get that swagger, this program will never rise to the levels of the elite.

Powered by Frankly