Much has been written and said over the last four days about the sometimes tumultuous seven-year tenure of newly retired Kentucky football coach Rich Brooks. Most of the commentary has been complimentary of Brooks, citing the many "firsts" the program accomplished under his leadership. And although the Wildcats' achievements over the last four years have been, at times, spectacular, I'll leave the "Rich Brooks Seven-Year Review" to others. Instead, I'll focus on the personality characteristics Brooks possesses, which enabled him to fight through the din created by those who wished to see him hang the "Gone Fishin Forever" sign on his office door ... many years ago.
And oh, I might castigate a few folks along the way.
The Problem with the Matter
For most of us, criticism comes unwanted, unwelcome, and many times, unheeded, especially when the critic clearly has no clue, concept, or solid foundation upon which to base his/her evaluation. In Rich Brooks' case, making matters nearly untenable through his first few years on the job, was the public platform available for various short-sighted scribes in which to criticize that which they didn't understand. Adding fuel to the inferno of discontent, the "experts" speaking and writing via the newspaper, radio, or Internet, were oftentimes experienced, seasoned professionals, and lack an excuse when it comes to the vitriol they perpetuated among a fan base unknowing of the situation at hand.
Rich Brooks, through his first three-and-a-half years as head coach of the UK football team, steadfastly endured the miss-applied printed word of those who called for his termination. All the while, stirring the bee hive of discontent even further, some sports journalists went so far as to conduct polls to gauge the UK fan base's interest in impending replacements for the belittled head coach. Brooks, though, instead of loudly crying foul, as some head coaches are wont to do, simply hardened his resolve, and continued the business of implementing his game-plan. A game-plan short on the impossible immediate fix, and long on long-term success.
Coaches less confident in their ability than Brooks would have disassembled the tent, and returned from that which they came, especially a coach in the twilight of his career, but Brooks believed. He believed in himself, his assistants, and the future of Kentucky football. He believed with enough conviction for you, me, and the remaining UK football faithful. And for that, I say, thank you coach Brooks.
The Only Thing That Matters
As a long-time Kentucky football fan, one who has witnessed years of bad luck, hard luck, and no luck at all, the program's resurrection at the hands of Rich Brooks and his very able assistants is, quite frankly, not something I thought I would ever witness. I realize the 'Cats are currently in the infant stage of rebirth, but it's the first time in nearly 60 years, 60 YEARS, that the football program has been able to maintain some semblance of competence over an extended period of time. Simply put, regardless of competition, the 'Cats have more consistently looked like a winner, as opposed to consistently looking like an out-manned outfit. Furthermore, the team has continuously accomplished that standard for four straight years.
For that, Rich Brooks and Mitch Barnhart are to be commended: Brooks for his steadfast ability to do his job in the face of three years of constant scrutiny and criticism, and Barnhart for having the confidence necessary in his hiring decision to ignore the doomsday scenarios painted by those with pens and a platform.
For Those Unhappy Few
For those still unsatisfied with the direction of the football program, and those who cite the negatives related to the Brooks tenure, I have this advice -- Remember where Brooks started from. He took over a program in the throws of probation, greatly reduced scholarships, and a team which had lost to graduation several outstanding seniors, especially on the defensive side of the football. Adding to the dilemma, Brooks' early UK squads were bereft of that which is held dear by all coaches in the SEC ... speed.
Now, seven years later, we've been witness to the construction of a football program worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as other SEC schools. We've been witness to four bowl games, one upset of the No. 1 team in the country, and more program "firsts" than should be allowed by law, to go along with a gaggle of NFL players who call UK their home.
And was this foundation construction completed via the shortcut, aka, NCAA violations? No. Has the foundation construction been completed by a coach no one would want to break bread with in his/her home? No. Rather, we've had the great fortune of watching a man with class, dignity, and sound character rebuild that which had been absent for lo these many years. Brooks has always been easy to root for, because we see in him that which we strive to be.
The Lesson Learned
Short-sighted criticism, especially in today's microwave, 24-hour news cycle world, has become much too prevalent, especially in the realm of sports. The resulting problem is that many times those charged with making the termination decisions succumb to the pressure brought by those who endow, write, and put fannies in seats. Leaving the fans to, instead of witnessing history, suffer through yet another coaching change ... yet another regime challenged with starting over.
And although many of those who cast stones in the general direction of Brooks and his staff have since recanted their earlier testimony, the question remains; Was a lesson learned? Did we learn not to prematurely judge a man and his efforts? Did we learn that sometimes, being out of the loop means being out of touch with the reality of the thing? Did we learn patience?
I suppose no one has the answers to those questions. So the best I can offer to those in possession of the power to alter opinions, is to urge them to please tread lightly, as the one you are emasculating just might be the builder of great things.
A very happy birthday to my father-in-law, Joe Morehead. He's 29 ... again!
To read Tru's excellent Georgia game post-mortem, please scroll down the front page.
UPDATE: Former U of L and Arkansas offensive line coach Mike Summers will be joining the Wildcats' football staff, becoming new head coach Joker Phillips' first hire. The Lexington native got his start in coaching at UK under Fran Curci in 1979. Summers is married to Joe B. Hall's daughter.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!