Kentucky football coach Rich Brooks retired Monday after seven years in which he engineered the probation-riddled program’s rise to perennial bowl participant, explaining it was time to turn the job over to his successor-in-waiting, Joker Phillips.
“This is the end of the road of the old man’s coaching career,” said Brooks, who spent 25 seasons as a college coach and led the NFL’s St. Louis Rams for a brief stint in the mid-1990s.
Phillips, the team’s offensive head coach who agreed to become the head coach in waiting two years ago, didn’t attend Brooks’s final news conference Monday at Commonwealth Stadium. UK football spokesman Tony Neely said Phillips was on a recruiting trip. But he issued a statement through the school Monday night, citing Brooks’s “unbelievable job in getting the program competitive in the Southeastern Conference.”
“The thing I like about him is that he stayed the course and stuck to his plan when many doubted that the program was headed in the right direction,” Phillips said. “As a Kentuckian, and a former player, I’m very proud of what he’s done for Kentucky football.”
When Phillips is officially named, with an announcement expected as early as this week, the three Football Bowl Subdivision programs in the commonwealth will all be led next year by black coaches in their first season as head coach, including Louisville’s Charlie Strong and Western Kentucky’s Willie Taggart.
Brooks’s decision was hardly a surprise. Following Kentucky’s 21- 13 loss to Clemson in the Music City Bowl, the 68-year-old coach told his players then the media that he was “80 percent” sure he would retire. Despite calls from former players and his own children suggesting he stay on, Brooks said he knew it was time to step aside.
“The only person that was comfortable with this decision was me,” he said.
Brooks said athletics director Mitch Barnhart and school president Lee Todd made c lear that he was welcome to stay, and offered him most of what he was seeking in compensation and a commitment to facility improvements.
“That was not the overriding thing,” he said. “Had they given me everything I’d asked for in that regard, I probably would still be here making this same decision.”
Todd said there was never any consideration to letting Brooks go, even during the bumpy start to his Kentucky career when he compiled just a 9-25 record during the first three seasons.