UK football notebook

Brooks will announce his decision this week

Herald-Leader Staff WriterJanuary 3, 2010 

Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks said at Saturday's Louisville-Kentucky basketball game that he would make an announcement about his future this week.

The 68-year-old Brooks announced after his team's Music City Bowl loss to Clemson that he was "80 percent" sure that he would not return as UK's head coach in 2010. Brooks spent the week in Lexington mulling over his options with family and friends. An announcement could come as early as Monday.

Brooks declined to say whether he had made up his mind and wouldn't go into specifics about what factors would play into his decision. But after talks with several sources close to the situation and an interview with UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, here's a look at some of the issues involved.

A big part of Brooks wants to return for at least one more season, and he has the support of his family and friends in doing so. If UK had beaten Tennessee and gone to the Outback Bowl, his decision would have been much easier. But Brooks' competitive fire wants another shot to not only knock off the Vols and South Carolina, but to make more noise in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division and lead the Cats to a better bowl.

But Brooks only wants to return under the right circumstances. He was under siege early in his tenure, yet he gradually brought the program out of NCAA probation and engineered one of the most successful four-year runs in the program's history. Brooks wants to make sure the proper things are in place for his successor, Joker Phillips, to move the program forward. He'd like to see his staff move up a notch or two on the SEC pay scale. And he'd like to ensure the administration is committed to providing the necessary facility upgrades, which include a renovation of Commonwealth Stadium and a multi-purpose recruiting room that was first proposed in 2003.

It's the same blueprint that Brooks followed at Oregon. He resurrected the program and took the Ducks to the 1994 Rose Bowl, then left to become head coach of the St. Louis Rams. Brooks turned the Ducks over to assistant Mike Bellotti, who established Oregon as a consistent Top 20 national program. Chip Kelly took over this season after Bellotti retired, and thanks to what are some of the nation's best facilities, the Ducks made it back to the Rose Bowl and look to be a perennial contender in the Pacific-10.

In an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader and Courier-Journal last week, Barnhart said he wanted Brooks to return as head coach but added that it had to be Brooks' decision. He spoke of his admiration for Brooks and pointed out that he stuck with Brooks when many fans and media were ready to push him out the door after he went 9-25 during his first three seasons. Barnhart also noted that Brooks has been given contract extensions three of the past four seasons.

Barnhart defended his commitment to the football program, pointing out that almost $10 million has been spent on facilities upgrades over the past seven years and that the football budget had risen to $11.5 million from $8 million during that period. Barnhart said finances and funding have caused delays in the multi-purpose recruiting room, but he wants to include that in a big project that also features a new basketball arena, a new baseball stadium and a renovation of Commonwealth Stadium.

"That project came to us initially as just a basketball arena," Barnhart said. "I said, 'I'm not even going to talk about that unless we can talk about football and baseball to go with it.' We leveraged our basketball program and the desire to build a new arena to say, 'Hey, we're going to spend $150 (million) to $180 million to renovate our football stadium.'

"That process has taken a little longer than I wish. We thought we were done a couple of times, and something else came up. It's a very unique funding model that's very difficult for people to get their arms around. But we're in the final stages of research, and we think maybe we're at a spot where we can get this thing finalized. If we do, it is absolutely huge for our entire department, and gives us the wherewithal to put the finishing touches on football renovations and other things for our Olympic sports programs."

It's no secret that football was the driving force behind ESPN's $2 billion television contract with the SEC. And while football generates more overall money for the athletic department than basketball, Barnhart said basketball creates more fund-raising to do capital projects than football.

"We actually use basketball's money to help build our facility projects," Barnhart said. "Football helps fund our general operating budget on a day-to-day basis. Due to football's success, all of our programs get to grow. The success Rich has had has contributed to the greater good of our department."

Barnhart in Phillips' corner

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said he fully supports UK head coach-in-waiting Joker Phillips.

"There's not a lot of head coaches that get to name their successor," Barnhart said. "That doesn't happen very often in our business. I trust Rich enough to say this is the guy that ought to step into my shoes. Everybody's been fussing about the offense this year. Two years ago they weren't fussing about the offense when we were scoring 37 points a game. It's about experience and injuries. We'll be fine. It's the same guy calling plays that was calling plays two years ago when we were lighting up the scoreboard."

There's nothing in writing that names Phillips as Brooks' successor, but Barnhart said Phillips' contract mandates that the school begin contract negotiations with him whenever Brooks retires and he takes over.

What is a multi-purpose recruiting room?

UK's proposed multi-purpose recruiting room project was approved in February 2003 and went through the design phase before being placed on hold. It will be owned jointly by the university and the athletic association. The project consists of two major spaces — a recruiting room and a kitchen facility. It was proposed as a 11,500-square foot building that would seat 275 people. It would provide space for recruiting activities primarily related to UK football, including social events, training activities, media interviews and hosting parents and recruits on game days. The room also would be the site for athletic and university banquets, receptions, award ceremonies, and meetings, and it would serve as the student-athlete training table area. It would include banquet seating, extensive audio and video equipment for graphic presentations, and an outdoor patio. The kitchen space will serve the recruiting room as well as activities being held at Commonwealth Stadium.

Last week Barnhart cited the cost of the kitchen facility as one of the reasons for the hold-up.

UK is the only SEC program that doesn't have a facility or specific area near its stadium to host recruits.

Chip Cosby covers UK football for the Herald-Leader. This article includes his opinions and observations. He can be reached at ccosby@herald-leader.com.

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