Ron Zook's Feud with the Mendenhall Family Has Yet To Go Away

Brent ParkerCorrespondent IJuly 22, 2008

The feud between now-Pittsburgh Steeler running back Rashard Mendenhall and his ex-coach Ron Zook continues to put Rashard in an unfavorable light.

If you haven't been following this story—better yet, "drama"—both seem like an embroiled, bitter divorced couple and neither wants to acquiesce and admit fault.

With any relationship gone sour, there are always two sides to every story. And finding out which person is right can be very dicey.

However, one thing is clear about this feud: Coach Zook is saying all the conclusive things, and Rashard Mendenhall is saying all the "cryptic" things.

Mendenhall, a highly-touted running back out of Skokie, Illinois, signed with the Illini, spurning other top colleges around the country.

This five-star running back wanted to play close to home, with his brother Walter, to form a formidable running tandem that would put Illinois football on the national map...however, it didn't turn out that way for one-half of the equation.

Walter Mendenhall sat on the bench as he watched his younger brother become Illinois' feature back.

Both brothers continued to support each other throughout their tenure with the Illini. This was evident when younger brother Rashard had an opportunity to break an Illinois rushing record, but took himself out the game and allowed his older brother Walter to get some playing time.

Even though this was a nice gesture on Rashard's part, forcing Zook's hand to put in a family member may not have went over well with coach Zook, who runs a tight ship.

Walter Mendenhall was not high on Zook's running-back list. For his career, he amassed 62 rushing yards on six attempts. That's a great line for a game, but definitely not a career.

Rashard must have seen this lack of appreciation for his older brother as disrespectful; however, Zook isn't under any obligation to put in any player who he doesn't think will produce for his team.

He doesn't owe anyone any playing time. Players have to show that they deserve to get on the field. You can't blame Rashard for feeling for his brother, as he badly wanted to see him succeed. However, Rashard has to realize that it's the coaching staff's decision to play Walter—not Rashard's.

He may not like it, but he has to respect the "call."

Frankly, I don't fully understand why Rashard thought Walter was any good, considering that he was a linebacker for five games and played on special teams. That tells me that the coaching staff was reaching to find a spot for Walter.

Sorry Rashard, he wasn't that good to begin with—time to move on. Instead of focusing on his NFL career, Rashard is still bitter about what Zook supposedly did or said. "It's just how things were run overall," Rashard said. "I'm not mad. There's no hard feelings. That's just how it was."

"As long as Ron Zook is there, it will be hard for me to support the University of Illinois football team," said Rashard.

Mendenhall also stated he doesn't feel that way because of his brother's situation or because he didn't start until his junior year, but he didn't offer any specifics.

Okay Rashard, if you aren't bitter then:

A) How come you're still talking about it,


B) why bring it up if you're not going to mention any specifics?

Do you want the media to pat you on the back and say, "We're here for ya...let it out..." and then you'll spill the beans on what really went down behind closed doors? If you want people to know your side of the story, stop giving us cryptic messages such as: "When you find things that were said, you can kind of read between the lines and see that everything wasn't as it appeared to be."

What does that mean?! What lines are you referring to?

Zook may not have endeared himself to the Mendenhalls, but one thing he can do without question is evaluate talent. Rashard went on to be a first-round draft choice and Walter is competing for a spot at Illinois State. And in the end, he was correct.

Zook knew exactly which of the two who would be NFL material, however, the jury is still out for Walter. This situation is a prime example of an athlete that was told at a young age that he was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and he felt that he was entitled to any and everything he wanted.

Rashard thought his older brother Walter was entitled to more playing time and thought he himself was entitled to "start" as a freshman. Now he's in the NFL, were entitlement doesn't get you far, and playing time is given to the player that performs the best.

It will be interesting to follow Rashard's choice of words at the pro level. Will he complain to the media about coach Mike Tomlin if he isn't starting as a rookie? Will he feel entitled to start since he was the Steelers' first pick in the draft and Najeh Davenport parted ways from the team?

Or will he learn that no one is entitled to anything, and that hard work and diligence are what get you ahead in life?

Only time will tell.


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