University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said Tuesday night he wants football coach Rich Brooks to return in 2010, but he added he wants it to be Brooks' call.
Brooks told the media after Sunday's Music City Bowl loss to Clemson he was "80 percent" sure he would not return as head coach in 2010.
Barnhart said he talked to Brooks shortly after his post-game radio show Sunday, but he hasn't met with him since. He said he hopes to meet with Brooks sometime this week to discuss the future.
"I want him to be our football coach. I think he's good for Kentucky," said Barnhart, who spoke before Tuesday's Kentucky-Hartford basketball game. "He's good for our players. And that's important."
Barnhart said he's been firmly behind Brooks and the football program during his tenure as athletics director.
"I've supported football, the department has supported football in a variety of ways," Barnhart said. "I supported Rich seven years ago. I supported him four years ago. I'm supporting him this year personally — from a very personal standpoint."
As evidence of support, Barnhart pointed to several facilities upgrades over the past seven years that he estimated to have cost nearly $10 million. Those include a new surface at Nutter Field House, new practice fields at the Nutter Training Center, new locker rooms at Nutter and Commonwealth Stadium, a $1.5 million re-sealing of pipes at Commonwealth Stadium and a new team meeting room. Position-specific meeting rooms are also in the works.
One project not underway is a multi-purpose recruiting room, which has been on the table since 2003. Barnhart said the delay comes down to finances: The original estimate for the project was around $2 million, but that figure has risen to around $7 million, partially because of UK's desire to include a kitchen area for on-site preparation of meals for recruits. Barnhart said he wants to package that with the renovation of Commonwealth Stadium, which UK is trying to finance through a project that would also fund a new basketball arena and baseball park. Barnhart said the funds are still being raised for those projects.
Barnhart added that the football budget has risen from $8 million to $11.5 million in recent years.
"The only frustration he can have is that recruiting room," Barnhart said of Brooks. "Clearly that's something we'd like to do as well, but it wasn't without reason why that project got put on the back burner. When that project goes from $2 million initial costs to $7 million, what do you cut out?"
Barnhart also noted that, according to a USA Today study of coaches' salaries, UK ranks 19th nationally in total salary pool for assistant football coaches. Brooks' package pays him $1.6 million annually, but that still puts him near the bottom of the SEC. Nine coaches in the league make more than $2 million.
Barnhart said Brooks hasn't indicated to him which factors will weigh the most heavily in his decision whether to retire. When asked if he planned to ask Brooks what needed to be done to retain him, Barnhart said, "We'll have to see how the conversation goes. He'll have to talk to his family and get through that piece of the conversation, and we'll visit again. If there's some things that he says 'I really need to have happen for me to stay,' I'll say, 'OK we can do that.'
Barnhart went on to add, "You've got to get to a spot where you say, 'OK, is my heart in this job and is this truly what I want to do? Or is it about other things? If it's about other things, those are the things you can talk about."
Barnhart said he had no idea whether Brooks' heart was still in the job.
"I absolutely do not know that in any way, shape or form," Barnhart said. "I think Rich enjoys being a football coach. I can't speak to his feelings, but I wanted to make sure (he knows) that if he wants to come back, it's his. It's his job."
Should Brooks decide to resign, former UK player and longtime assistant coach Joker Phillips has been named coach in waiting. Barnhart said that he fully supports Phillips as Brooks' successor.