Following a Legend: How John Brantley Will Succeed Where Ron Zook Didn't

Joe MorganSenior Analyst IJuly 8, 2010

GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 21: Quarterback John Brantley #12 of the Florida Gators bobbles a snap from center against the Florida International University Golden Panthers, November 21, 2009 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Redshirt junior John Brantley has some big shoes to fill at quarterback for the Florida Gators in 2010.

Despite his previous experience besting Tim Tebow (Brantley broke the Heisman Trophy winner's FHSAA passing touchdowns record, throwing 99 to Tebow's 98), surpassing No. 15 this time around will be a lot tougher for Florida's new signal-caller.

However, as Brantley prepares to become Florida's first starting quarterback post-Tebow, he draws a lot of comparisons to the last Gator who took over for a legend.

When Florida hired Ron Zook to take over for Steve Spurrier as head coach in 2002, he was immediately saddled with ridiculous expectations.

The same will go for Brantley, who is following a guy widely considered to be one of the greatest college football players ever.

Looking at Tebow and Spurrier, although different breeds, they have a lot in common in regards to the mark each left on Gator football.

Spurrier, the winner of Florida's first Heisman Trophy in 1966, made the Gators into a national college football powerhouse as the Ol' Ball Coach, winning five SEC Championships and bringing the university its first national title in 1996.

Similarly, Tebow has been right at the center of Florida's resurgence as one of the nation's premier programs, winning two SEC and national titles and shattering school records while winning the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore in 2007.

Also, both had larger-than-life personalities, with Spurrier grabbing headlines for talking smack and Tebow garnering attention from speaking with his eye blacks.

Despite their different styles, both Spurrier and Tebow captivated the college football world during their careers in Gainesville and have forever etched their legacies in university lore.

As for Brantley and Zook, the task at hand is/was difficult because there's the prospect of endless comparisons to someone beloved by the Gator Nation.

Like Brantley, who has a great head coach in Urban Meyer and a variety of offensive playmakers, including junior speedsters Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps to work with, Zook had the resources to succeed.

He had an elite quarterback in Rex Grossman during his first season, who was fresh off a second-place finish in Heisman Trophy balloting and a top NFL prospect at the time, and he brought in talented recruiting classes that featured the likes of Chris Leak, Jarvis Moss, and Dallas Baker.

And while Zook failed miserably to measure up to Spurrier's wit—"If you sleep five hours really fast it feels like eight." What?—that was not a significant contribution to his overall failure.

The key factor that hurt Zook was a lack of faith from the Gator fans.

Florida fans, who had their hearts set on the likes of Bob Stoops and Mike Shanahan after Spurrier's departure, dismissed Zook, who had zero head coaching experience, and the infamous website "FireRonZook.com" was created shortly after he was hired.

Consequently, the weakness of Zook's resumé turned initial speed bumps, which may have been otherwise considered by fans as growing pains, into questions of Zook's credibility, and yearning for the days of Spurrier, ultimately setting the tone for the Zook Era at Florida.

Obviously, Brantley comes into this season with the fan support Zook lacked and he is a much better successor to Tebow than Zook was to Spurrier, especially considering his high school numbers.

However, as soon as he takes the first snap against Miami (OH) Sept. 4, Brantley's past will vanish and he will be looked at only for what he does as a Gator.

For example, if he should throw an interception against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium, murmurs of  "Tebow wouldn't have made that mistake..."   may begin to surface.

(Remember that Tebow played a crucial role as a short-yardage back on the winning drive in his first SEC road game, a 21-20 Gator victory over the Volunteers in 2006).

For Brantley, his best bet is to accept that he will never be Tim Tebow and to come to peace with that.

I'm not implying that Brantley will try to barrel through linebackers on fourth down or spend his spring break performing circumcisions in the Philippines, but it's natural for someone in his position to become anxious and try to overdo things.

While Brantley certainly has the talent to win games for Florida, his main goal should be to play mistake-free football and to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers, which include running backs Demps and Rainey and receivers Andre Debose and Deonte Thompson.

However, as Brantley gains experience and begins to see his quarterbacking skills mature, he may very well become the focal point of Florida football in the near future.

It's possible that Brantley may have an even more successful stint as the Gator quarterback than Tebow, but for now, his role is understated in Meyer's spread offense.

Brantley must work hard to gain the confidence of his teammates and the Gator Nation this season as the starting quarterback.

If Brantley can do that, and he's as talented as advertised, he may create a situation very similar to his own for his eventual replacement at quarterback down the road.