Leach's first book chronicles rise of Brooks

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 17, 2009 

Back in the day, legendary Kentucky radio play-by-play voice Cawood Ledford used to augment his ties to UK athletics by writing books about Wildcats sports.

It is a tradition that current Cats radio announcer Tom Leach hopes to revive.

This weekend, Leach is putting the finishing touches on a book designed to be the "inside story" of how Kentucky football coach Rich Brooks went from the verge of a pink slip midway through the 2006 season to becoming the first UK coach ever to win three straight bowl games.

The book, tentatively titled Rich Tradition, is scheduled for release in July.

"I just thought it was a really interesting story how the players rallied around an old coach that many said was past his prime and a lot said hadn't been a good hire in the first place," Leach said Friday.

Leach says the book starts with the aftermath of Kentucky's 49-0 drubbing at Louisiana State in 2006.

At that point, Brooks was midway through his fourth season at Kentucky. With a 12-29 record, he appeared to be a dead man walking.

Says Leach: "You just don't see a coach pull out of that situation after three-and-a-half years."

Except, Brooks did. UK won 11 of its next 13 games over two seasons, including beating Georgia, Clemson, Louisville, Arkansas and eventual 2007 national champion LSU.

Overall, since that horrid 2006 defeat in Baton Rouge, Brooks is 20-12 at UK.

Leach says he'd had the idea for the book since at least the middle of the 2007 season. However, he didn't approach Brooks until after the Cats had beaten East Carolina in last season's Liberty Bowl.

"Just from a marketing standpoint, I probably wouldn't have done it now if (Kentucky) had lost," Leach said of the Liberty Bowl. "They'd have been 6-7, I don't know how receptive people would have been. But when they won, it was the third straight bowl win, and I thought people would be feeling good about the program."

So what will readers who closely follow UK sports learn about the Kentucky football turnaround — and the people who made it possible — that they don't already know?

For one, Leach says, Brooks comes from a far more modest economic background than he realized.

"He told a story; his parents were divorced, and he was living with his dad, who was working in a gold mine in California," Leach says of Brooks. "Rich got a job painting the local school house at $1.35 an hour just to help out.

"Rich went home and told his Dad, and his Dad said 'Congratulations, you are now earning 10 cents an hour more than I am.' "

I was curious whether Brooks himself thought he was toast at UK after the debacle at LSU in 2006.

"He told me he thought if they hadn't won the next game (at Mississippi State), that he wasn't sure he'd get to coach another game in Commonwealth Stadium," Leach said. "He thought they might go ahead and pull the plug (with four games left) to get a jump-start on a search."

Kentucky fans have a chance to be part of the book. At Leach's Web site, tomleachky.com, UK backers will find a link where they can submit their own photos of Brooks for possible use in the book.

If the work proves successful, Leach said, he hopes it will lead to a series of UK sports-oriented titles.

Just like Cawood used to do.

Bunky goes bye-bye

College basketball in Kentucky lost a little flavor last week when Berea College women's basketball coach Bunky Harkleroad resigned to become the head man at Glenville State, an NCAA Division II school in West Virginia.

At Berea, Harkleroad's teams were the most interesting in Kentucky college hoops, at least in terms of how they played.

The coach installed a frenetic, full-court style that frequently saw full-court pressing with all five defenders in the front-court and substituting new units of five players in and out of the game literally every minute.

Berea often hoisted more than 50 three-point shots and scored more than 100 points in games.

At Berea — which plays basketball in the non-scholarship NAIA Division II — the women's head hoops coach is a part-time position. In addition to his coaching, Harkleroad, 37, has had a full-time day job as a public school teacher.

At Glenville State, he will be a full-time college women's basketball coach at a school that gives athletic scholarships.

"That's what this is about, having an opportunity to coach full-time at the college level," Harkleroad said.

Will the coach take his unorthodox playing style to his new job?

"We're going to do our best," he said. "But time will tell whether we have the people to play that way right away. Long-term, we'll just have to see if everything we were doing at Berea is going to work at that level; but we're definitely going to try to play fast."

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or at mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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