University of Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks made it known at SEC Media Days last weekend that he won't meet his original goal of becoming the longest-tenured coach in UK history, which would require him to finish out the 2012 season.
But that doesn't mean he's ready to ride off into the sunset just yet.
Brooks led off a speaking engagement at the Lexington Rotary Club earlier this week by emphatically denying a rumor that he had said he would retire after this season, and he reiterated that point before the UK Kickoff Luncheon on Friday.
"I don't know where that came from," Brooks said.
When asked why he was so proactive in delivering such a strong statement to lead off the Rotary Club, Brooks said, "Because somebody announced that I said it was going to be my last year. Boy, I know a lot of people put words in my mouth, but that one hasn't gotten out yet."
And while the end may be nearer for Brooks than he originally thought, he was emphatic when answering a question about whether he'd still have the same passion.
"Just ask my players if I've got any fire," Brooks said. "That'll get (that question) answered."
Head coach of the offense Joker Phillips, who will take over whenever Brooks does step down, vouched for the soon-to-be 68-year-old Brooks' energy level.
"He still has that fire in his belly, and he's been that way from day one when he walked in the door," Phillips said. "He still has the same demands on us, he still has the same demands on the kids, and he still has the same priorities."
At Oregon, Brooks took the Ducks from a moribund Pac-10 program to a league title and Rose Bowl appearance in 1994 before leaving to coach the NFL's St. Louis Rams. When Brooks leaves UK, he'll likely return to Oregon and spend time with family and friends.
"It's always hard; transition is difficult," Brooks said. "When you invest a lot of time and energy in trying to make something better than it was when you inherited it, you never know when is the time and is it right."
After fielding a couple of questions about his eventual retirement, Brooks quickly cut the conversation off and said he wouldn't discuss it anymore this season.
"I'm not going to worry about it anymore," he said. "And for official announcement, this will be the last time I comment about it until the appropriate time at the end of a season instead of the start of a season."
Brooks would undoubtedly like to take the Kentucky program to the heights he reached at Oregon before leaving. He got fired up when asked what his response would be to fans that have grown weary of mid-level bowl wins and the six- and seven-win plateau.
"What do you think I say to them?" Brooks said. "I say the same thing I've always said — it's not good enough that we've only won three straight bowl games. We want to continue to climb the SEC ladder. And if people haven't heard me say that, then they need to take their earplugs out."
For the record, Brooks does feel like the majority of fans are on board with the direction the program is headed.
"I feel good that, at least from the fans' perspective, that yes, there are questions; they think this is wrong, that is wrong," Brooks said. "But by and large, they now believe that we have a chance to win, that we are making progress. Whether it's fast or as much as they want, or the stats are what they want all the time, those are things they'll always have fun with. I'm just excited the UK fans are embracing what has transpired here and what can transpire in the future."
Brooks will spend the next week getting ready for the start of fall camp. The players will report next Thursday, with Media Day and the first official practice set for Friday. With most of the freshmen and newcomers having been on campus most of the summer working out and taking classes, Brooks and his staff can get right to the football stuff.
"(Freshmen enrolling in summer) helps them get started academically, and some of them don't do as well as others, and that's an alarm for them to turn the dial up once regular school starts," Brooks said. "The conditioning aspect is night and day different. Freshmen used to just show up for fall camp, and I promise you they had no clue what to expect. Now, having gone through it most of them are in very good shape."