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Kentucky Football: Rags to riches is a fairy tale for kids


I originally wrote this as a comment on Chris Diggs' blog at the Courier Journal, but I thought it just might make a decent post over here, so I have revised and extended it a bit.

So why all the recent brouhaha with Rich Brooks lashing out a bit at Kentucky fans?  I think it has a lot to do with the fact that Brooks has built a winning program from scratch before, and he knows what it takes.  It's hard to put up with some fan behavior that doesn't respect that process, not due to bad intentions or poor character, but out of a lack of understanding of what it really takes to do what he and the coaching staff are trying to do.

I think the big question here is expectations. We have had a couple of great seasons, and it is the tendency of Kentucky fans to understand that in basketball terms. Football is different.

A good basketball team (not a dynasty, mind you but a good team) can be built in four or five years by the right guy, but it takes much longer to build a football program. The biggest reason is quality depth, and I think that is something schools trying to develop a football tradition fail to understand. UK has often had some good athletes and skill players over the years, but we have usually had inferior lines that were as thin as parchment, and the lines are where the Great Powers of the SEC differ from the Kentuckys and the Vanderbilts. Developing great lines with quality depth that can succeed season after season takes years and years of gradually improving recruiting and hard-won experience.

Kentucky fans have to learn how to be great football fans, just as they are great basketball fans. It isn't just winning games, it is about a gradual progression to a winning program, a winning attitude and winning expectations not just in the fan base, but in the recruits and current players and even in our SEC peers. Kentucky, even now, recruits at a level far below that of the successful teams in the SEC. That matters -- a lot. It will get better (hopefully), but it is very difficult in this conference. Very difficult. We are still stuck with the leavings and scrapings of Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU, Florida, and yes, even South Carolina.

It took Louisville 15 years to build up a good program in the much weaker Conference USA. It took Brooks 13 years to develop Oregon into a consistent winner in the much more top-heavy Pac-10. This project he has helped start at Kentucky will not be realized for at least a decade, and maybe longer. It's a sure bet that Brooks will not be head coach when and if our fledgling effort becomes a full-blown reality.

We have to learn to be fans of a successful SEC football team, and that is way different than suffering through year after year of beatings. It looks like it would be easier, but it isn't -- you get a taste of real, long-term success and any step backward causes flashbacks to the misery of years gone by. It's like becoming addicted to a drug -- at the first hint of withdrawal, the addict becomes outraged or despondent.

UK fans need to embrace the fact that we are embarking on a great journey, one that will not be fully realized for many years yet. Anything worth doing is worth taking all the time it takes to do well, and if we are ever to compete year in and year out with the likes of Florida, Alabama and Georgia, we must earn that right through many trials and failures. There is no quick and easy path to a successful SEC football program, only painful and protracted ones, if such a path exists at all. From what I can tell, we are trying to become the first SEC program in modern history to rise from the cellar into genuine respectability. It is a novel concept in the SEC with no example I can think of to emulate.

UK fans should keep this in mind next time we go to the game. A broader perspective will help ease the pain of the inevitable epic failure, and give us the confidence to look upon the ugly and regrettable that will sometimes happen en route. But if we keep an eye on the future, and learn to act like winners even when we lose instead of petulant children who's toy is suddenly broken, we just may find a way to prevail.