Zook Not Looking Back At Playbook Scandal
 
 

Sept 17, 2002

By EDDIE PELLS
AP Sports Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Jack Sells was a scorned former assistant at Tennessee, hoping to help a friend. Ron Zook was the new defensive coordinator at Florida, trying to figure out how to stop the Vols.

Together in 1991, they hatched the southern-fried football scandal known as Faxgate. It was a convoluted caper that, 11 years later, seems laughable to practically everyone except the guys who were responsible.

No. 4 Tennessee plays No. 10 Florida on Saturday in a renewal of their intense Southeastern Conference rivalry. On Tuesday, Zook was in no mood to reminisce about one of his more embarrassing moments in coaching.

"It has nothing to do with this game, it had nothing to do with the game in '91," Zook said, his eyes darting around the room, looking for another question. "It was way overblown."

Fulmer Doesn't Miss
Spurrier's Comments

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer won't miss Steve Spurrier's comments while he gets ready to take on Florida this weekend.

For the first time since Fulmer faced Florida as Tennessee's interim head coach in 1992, Spurrier won't be grimacing, pacing or throwing down his visor when the No. 10 Gators (2-1) visit fourth-ranked Tennessee (2-0) on Saturday.

This week will feel differently.

"It's probably not nearly as annoying," an unusually candid Fulmer said Tuesday. "The preparation hasn't changed. It's always been a huge game."

Former Florida assistant Ron Zook, who once coached defensive backs at Tennessee, has replaced Spurrier - the new Washington Redskins coach. The Gators have had a hard time living up to the days of Spurrier's high-scoring opening games, losing to Miami and beating UAB and Ohio so far.

The Volunteers opened with wins over Wyoming and Middle Tennessee and are 3-point favorites.

In the past 10 years, Florida's tuneups for Tennessee were pushovers as the lopsided scores indicated.

Fulmer, though, still isn't buying that the Gators aren't as dangerous this season.

"You can say what you want, or think what you want, but they're the No. 10 team coming in here with one loss to the defending national champions, and they're very good," he said.

Gone too are the Spurrier-isms created just to bug Fulmer and the Volunteers. The most infamous was "You can't spell Citrus without UT," a reference to Tennessee's most common bowl destination after losing to Florida.

With a 3-7 record against Spurrier, Fulmer had plenty of respect for his nemesis.

"Put a microphone in front of him, he was annoying. Otherwise, he was a pretty good guy," Fulmer said.

Fulmer won his first battle with Spurrier in 1992 while he was filling in for Johnny Majors, who was recovering from a heart attack.

The Vols then lost five straight, including the embarrassing 31-0 drubbing in 1994 and the 62-37 defeat the next year.

The last four games have been split evenly with Tennessee winning in 1998 and last year, breaking a 20-year losing streak at The Swamp.

Spurrier's absence also doesn't change the fact that the winner of this game has the upper hand toward winning the Southeastern Conference East division title. Florida and Tennessee are the only teams to ever represent the East in the SEC championship game.

So Fulmer will take a win over Florida no matter who the coach is.

"Last year, (the win) was sweet," he said. "This will be sweet, too. We're hoping to do well."

Sells has an unlisted telephone number. His mother, Betty Sells, said her son is out of football now.

"He has a very professional job," she told The Associated Press from her home in Nashville, Tenn. "He's not interested in football at all. And he's not interested in talking to you."

Zook and Sells became friends in 1986, when Zook worked as a defensive backs coach at Tennessee and Sells was a graduate assistant, moving his way up the Vols' coaching ladder.

Among the few things Zook and Mrs. Sells would divulge is that the two families remain friendly - as friendly as they were in 1991, when a very interesting fax showed up at Zook's office in the Florida football complex.

The pages were full of diagrams of plays from the Tennessee playbook, information Sells had become privy to over his years as an assistant with the Vols.

Sells was fired in June of 1991 when Tennessee found him guilty of NCAA recruiting violations. Apparently, he had no qualms about sending the information to Zook, who was in his first year as Steve Spurrier's defensive coordinator.

Since then, Spurrier has often joked about Florida having copies of Tennessee's playbook and vice versa, and none of that mattering much - if only because these teams know each other so well.

Even Zook conceded Tuesday - under a different line of questioning - that not much has changed in the Tennessee playbook over the years.

"Tennessee is doing the same things they did in 1984 and '85," Zook said.

But when the story broke, around the time of Florida's 35-18 victory over Tennessee, Sells denied having faxed anything to Zook, and Zook and Spurrier denied receiving any improper information.

"I'm not even going to comment," Zook said at the time. "This is getting ridiculous."

But really, it was just starting.

Zook's denial was debunked when newspapers in Knoxville found a copy of a fax cover sheet from a Kinko's copy service near the Tennessee campus.

The cover was dated Oct. 9, 1991 - three days before the Tennessee-Florida game. The fax was directed to Zook at "U.F.A.D." The sender's name was listed as Jack Sells, and included his home telephone number.

Newspapers said a Kinko's employee recognized Sells and stopped the transmission after about 10 to 15 sheets. The employee then called the Tennessee athletic department, which sent an assistant to the copy shop to collect the pages.

The Southeastern Conference investigated, and found no misconduct.

Ten days after the story first surfaced, Zook knew he had been caught in a lie. Spurrier admitted Zook had received the pages, but said neither he nor Zook had intended to mislead the public by stating they hadn't received anything improper.

"I told you what I knew," Spurrier said at the time. The issue was made even more touchy because in 1991, Florida was just coming off NCAA probation for, among other things, improperly spying on upcoming opponents.

Sells later sued Kinko's, accusing the business of violating his privacy, damaging his reputation and destroying his career.

In the lawsuit, Sells claimed he was harassed constantly by Tennessee fans, one of whom he claims punched him in the mouth in a bar in Chattanooga

"I guess Jack's got him a brand new house somewhere," Spurrier joked in 1995, around the time the lawsuit was settled. The terms of the settlement are undisclosed.

Like Spurrier, Vols coach Phil Fulmer is among those who doesn't take the 11-year-old caper too seriously anymore. Fulmer was an assistant for Johnny Majors when the story broke in 1991.

Asked if he was concerned if any of his assistants might be paying a visit to the copy shop this week, Fulmer replied: "I don't think so. I sure hope not, anyway."


 
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Ron Zook and the Gators face Tennessee on Saturday.