Ron Zook begins his third season as a member of the Packers’ coaching staff, having been promoted to special teams coordinator by Head Coach Mike McCarthy on Feb. 12, 2015.
Possessor of a vast résumé of both collegiate and professional coaching experience, Zook is embarking on his ninth season at the pro level. He previously also spent time on the staffs of the Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers during his coaching career.
In Zook’s first year leading the Packers’ special teams in 2015, he oversaw a unit that displayed vast improvement from the previous season. In the Dallas Morning News’ annual special teams rankings, Green Bay ranked 17th last season after finishing 32nd in 2014. Leading the way was the Packers’ punt-coverage unit, which limited opponents to a 4.2-yard punt return average, No. 1 in the NFL and the best mark by a Green Bay team since 1969 (3.4 avg.). Under Zook’s guidance, Mason Crosby recorded 108 points, giving him the ninth 100-point season of his career as he passed Ryan Longwell (1997-2004) for the franchise record. In the process, Crosby also passed Longwell as the franchise scoring leader with 1,145 points. Additionally, Zook helped Tim Masthay finish the regular season with a net punting average of 40.28 yards, the top mark in franchise history (since 1976) as he surpassed his own record of 38.95 in 2013.
Zook’s first year in Green Bay as special teams assistant in 2014 saw Crosby drill six consecutive field goals from 50-plus yards at one point to set a franchise record. DB Micah Hyde averaged 15.8 yards on 14 punt returns in 2014, No. 1 in the NFL among players with 14-plus returns. He also posted two punt return TDs, tied for No. 1 in the NFL with Darren Sproles, while also becoming just the fifth player in team history to record two-plus punt return TDs in a season.
Prior to coming to Green Bay, Zook gained 10 years of experience as a head coach in the college ranks, first at the University of Florida (2002-04) and more recently at the University of Illinois (2005-11).
Zook spent seven years on campus at Illinois, taking over the program in 2005 and earning Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year honors in 2007 after he led the Fighting Illini to a 9-4 record and the program’s first Rose Bowl berth since 1983. That season marked the eighth nine-win campaign in school history, and the seven-win turnaround from 2006 was the best in program annals.
Impressively, 17 Illinois players coached or recruited by Zook were drafted into the NFL between 2006-12, a number that included five first-round choices and three second-round picks.
Prior to Illinois, Zook made his debut as a collegiate head coach during a three-year stint at Florida, a program with which he had previously enjoyed success as an assistant under head coach Steve Spurrier during the early 1990s.
During Zook’s tenure, the school compiled a 25-15 overall record, including a 16-8 mark in Southeastern Conference play.
Florida reached a bowl game in each season under his direction, including a second consecutive Outback Bowl in 2003, when they earned a share of the SEC East Division title. That season, the Gators faced the second-toughest schedule in the nation, a slate that included seven ranked opponents, and reeled off wins over ranked teams in three consecutive weeks for the first time in school history.
In 2004, Zook’s final season, the Gators finished atop the SEC in six different team categories, including scoring offense, total offense and passing offense. That year, they also became just the second team in the history of the storied conference to boast the league’s leading rusher, passer, receiver and scorer in the same season.
Zook also held a reputation for being an excellent recruiter at the college level. In his time as head coach at Florida, he signed 10 Parade All-Americans in three years, after the school had managed a total of 20 in the previous 12 years. His 2003 recruiting class was ranked in the top three nationally and featured eight future NFL draft picks, including first-rounders Jarvis Moss and Reggie Nelson.
That legacy as a recruiter was further cemented two years following his departure, when in 2006, 22 of the 24 starters on Florida’s BCS National Championship team were players who had been recruited to Florida by Zook.
Prior to making his return to Florida, Zook enjoyed six years as an assistant in the NFL. His final two seasons came in 2000-01 when he served as the defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints and forged a relationship with McCarthy, who was then the team’s offensive coordinator. The Saints’ defense led the NFL with 119 sacks over the course of his two seasons and ranked No. 10 in the league in points allowed in 2000.
In 1999, he coached defensive backs for the Kansas City Chiefs. That season, he tutored CB James Hasty, who tied for the NFL lead with a career-high seven INTs and was named to the Pro Bowl. The Chiefs ranked No. 5 in the NFL with 25 INTs that season and tied for No. 2 with five INT-TDs. The 25 INTs were the most by the club since it posted 31 during the 1986 season.
Before his stint in Kansas City, Zook spent three seasons (1996-98) as the special teams coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In 1997, Zook oversaw a Steelers’ kickoff return unit led by returner Will Blackwell that ranked No. 6 in the NFL with a 24.7-yard average. That same season, he guided veteran Norm Johnson to the fourth-best field-goal percentage in the league, an 88.0 mark that ultimately stood as the second highest of the specialist’s 18-year career. While in Pittsburgh, Zook also worked with current Packers safeties coach Darren Perry and assistant special teams coach Jason Simmons, who were both defensive backs and special- teams contributors during his time with the club.
Before making that initial foray into the NFL, Zook spent 18 years as a college assistant, earning his first opportunity at Murray State (1978-80), before making stops at Cincinnati (1981-82), Kansas (1983), Tennessee (1984-86), Virginia Tech (1987), Ohio State (1988-90) and his first tour at Florida (1991-95).
A three-year letterman and captain as a defensive back at Miami of Ohio, Zook played on teams that posted a 32-1-1 record during his career and won three consecutive Mid-American Conference titles from 1973-75. He earned a degree in comprehensive science.
Zook was born April 28, 1954, in Loudonville, Ohio. He and his wife, Denise, have two daughters, Jacquelyn Paige Zook of Los Angeles and Casey Sabin, married to Scott Sabin, and grandson Lucas Roman Sabin of Metamora, Ill.