Tuesday, January 5, 2010

We'll miss you, Coach Brooks

Seven football seasons ago, Kentucky fans were angry. Their team had just been placed on probation as a result of events that occurred under the previous coach, the current coach had led the team to a surprising seven win season, and the athletics director did not see fit to match a generous offer from another university to keep that coach on the job in Lexington.

That's the situation Rich Brooks inherited when he accepted the head football coaching job at the University of Kentucky seven years ago. Many fans were upset that Kentucky had not lured a "big-name" coach or at least one with a recent history of success at the collegiate level. Brooks hadn't coached a single game in college in a number of years, having served as a head coach and defensive coordinator for professional teams. Rumors swirled that Kentucky had too aggressively pursued one or two high-profile candidates, only to be turned down late in the selection process, or that it had offered the job to nearly everyone in the coaching profession, and they had all declined Kentucky's offers.

But not Rich Brooks.

In he came, and the immediate results were not great. Kentucky was on probation, meaning that they had limited scholarships to offer prospective players and could not play in the postseason. These two factors kept a lot of top-shelf recruits from committing to Kentucky, and the talent level and quantity both suffered.

But gradually more high-quality players agreed to come to the University of Kentucky and the most recently completed season represented the first time in school history that the football team had qualified for post-season play in four consecutive years.

This most recent season was trying for a lot of reasons, beginning with high hopes and ending with two disappointing losses, and it seems that those two losses, along with other factors, led Coach Brooks to announce his retirement yesterday. The program should move ahead seamlessly, having named Brooks' successor two years ago, but it will miss the fiery competitor that fans and especially players have come to know, respect and love over the last seven years.

As a local newspaper columnist wrote, they don't make them like Rich Brooks anymore. And that's a shame, because of his drive, competitiveness and integrity. And he will be badly missed.

Thanks, coach, for letting Kentucky fans be unabashed in their support of this football program!

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