All who pass this way leave a mark if only a bad tattoo. A few stay awhile and leave an indelible one. Rich Brooks did.
Those who coach football at Kentucky don’t stay long or they dig foxholes, wear combat helmets and deal with ghosts of disasters past . . . Hal Mumme, John Ray . . . Bill Curry.
Brooks climbed out of his foxhole last week, took off his helmet, gave us a sunshine smile, hugged the Missus and said he was retired.
Except for a punter who just shanked one, or a tackle who jumped a snap count on thirdand short, Rich Brooks became the jolly good fellow, nobody can deny.
Time for Big Blue Nation tribute (some of whom wanted him fired soon as he was hired). And appreciations wrapped in rhetorical ribbons, all to be stacked onto a nice hill of accomplishment.
• Four consecutive seven-win seasons. First time since Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft were presidents, 1909-12.
• To commemorate the miserable Saturdays when Kentucky fought the gallant fight for three quarters then surrendered in the fourth, Brooks’s last four teams posted 12 fourth-quarter comeback victories.
• The Wildcats won three SEC road games last season for first time in 32 years; won at Auburn for first time in 43 years, at Georgia for the first time 32.
More important than all the wins:
Young men learned to manage exhaustion and exhilaration, how to handle success and setback, and how to project joy and pride.
Joy and pride was a shared experience with Cat Walk fans. 2009 marked a third straight season Wildcat fans set school record for attendance. Average: 69,594 per home game.
So, build a football program and they will come. Brooks did and fans did their part.
University of Kentucky president Lee Todd: “Rich Brooks changed the culture and direction of our football program. He was willing to take the heat and face critics in the early years and build our program the right way. His nononsense, high-integrity approach earned the respect of his players, our fans and the media.”
Run up the flag, boys and girls! Tribute enough.
Next new thing at University of Kentucky, head coach Joker Phillips.
He did his apprenticeship at Kentucky . . . Minnesota . . . Notre Dame . . . South Carolina and home again. Waited for his time patiently. I like to believe that quota-minded men yammering about job market apartheid, along with suddenly self-righteous and late-arriving bandwagon media patting themselves on the back because three black men are college football coaches in Kentucky, is nonsense. Joker’s ascent is the result of a man’s work, not his skin color.
Phillips handled the last lap with class also. Disappeared until after Brooks’s announcement and time of tribute, then re-surfaced to add his own.
“The thing I like about (coach Brooks),” the new coach said, “is that he stayed the course and stuck to his plan when many doubted the program was headed in the right direction. As a Kentuckian, and a former player, I’m very proud of what he’s done for Kentucky football.”
Honeymoon time for Phillips will be longer than for most first rookie coaches.
1. Native son understands the culture better than any UK football coach before or since Jerry Claiborne.
2. Leadership persona. Charisma is genuine and so is his pragmatic view of media and critics. Wait to measure rabbit ears.
3. Skin color. Same fans who found fault with Dr. Orlando Smith will be Phillips skeptics for same reasons, even if UK wins an SEC title. Yet, trends tell us the mostly white media herd will be slow to criticize a charismatic native son whose skin pigment is different from theirs.
Predictable and disappointment from Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart. Disproportionate emphasis on winning games and a pittance in incentives toward progressing student-athletes toward a degree.
If Kentucky wins four SEC games in a season, Phillips receives $100,000. for five wins $125,000, for six $150,000, and so forth.
On the scholar side, if the team’s Academic Progress Rate reaches .925 in an academic year, the coach’s bonus is $15,000. A 2.75 team grade point average, Phillips gets $25,000.
Which brings us to this scenario. Think October. UK has three conference wins and is favored to win its next SEC game. Three starters break team rules and the coach has a decision — bench the three or play them. If the players are suspended and Kentucky loses the game, it could cost Phillips $100,000 (contract incentive for four SEC wins).
What would you do?
Stay tuned. You may reach Bob Watkins at