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Gator players defend Zook

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The decision to fire Florida coach Ron Zook was welcomed by Gator fans around the country.

It didn't get the same reception in the locker room.

Players strongly defended their coach Tuesday and chastised athletic director Jeremy Foley for the timing of the move.

"He basically just ripped the heart out of the team," safety Jarvis Herring said. "He kept saying it was all about the team, all about the team. No, it's not about the team. It's really about the damn boosters and the fans or whatever. That's all it's about. It's nothing about us. We're just in the middle. We're just trapped."

Zook held a team meeting Monday to inform the players of his dismissal, then gave the floor to Foley. What followed was another embarrassing scene in what has become a season filled with them for the Gators.

Some players yelled at Foley. Others got up and walked out.

"It got very heated," Herring said. "The questions only lasted 10 minutes. If it would've lasted any longer, there's no telling what might've happened."

Linebacker Travis Harris was one of the few players who stood up in the meeting and questioned Foley about the firing, which came five days before Florida's annual rivalry game against 10th-ranked Georgia.

"I just let him know that it wasn't well thought out," said Harris, a senior. "If a decision needs to be made, that's cool. But if the coach is going to remain the whole season, why put a damper on this year like that? Why not wait?

"I just don't understand that. It just felt like he was saying, 'Forget the rest of this season. I don't care what you guys think.' "

Harris said Foley never actually answered his question.

"He just gave me the run-around," Harris said. "He said you're entitled to your opinion. He felt like it was the best thing to do and blah, blah, blah."

It shouldn't be a surprise that the team backed Zook, a great recruiter who has often been criticized for being too close to his players.

He has been accused of being too lenient when handing down punishments, including recently when he didn't penalize three players involved in a fight with fraternity members on campus. Hours later, Zook showed up at the fraternity house and got into a shouting match with several students.

Standout linebacker Channing Crowder has been arrested twice in as many years, but was suspended just one game for each arrest.

There also was Zook's handling of suspensions to Jonathan Colon and Mo Mitchell, players kicked off the team in June 2003 for missing classes, tests and punishments. Zook let the team vote on whether they should be reinstated.

Ultimately, the Gators didn't get it done on the field.

But instead of trying to figure out why they haven't been able to stop the run, win close games or beat teams from Mississippi, the Gators spent Tuesday whining about Zook's firing.

"Some of the guys are really thinking about leaving," Herring said. "They're tired of some of the decisions being made upstairs by you know who."

Foley said he recognizes the players' frustration.

"I understand their disappointment and anger, and they are entitled to their opinion," he said. "They're close to their head coach, and I respect that."