Rich Brooks will lead Kentucky into an unprecedented fourth straight bowl game when the Wildcats play Clemson next Sunday night in the Music City Bowl. On the verge of completing his seventh season on the Kentucky sideline, the head coach talked about the state of the program.
Question: I know your players had their sights set beyond the Music City Bowl. Have you been able to gauge their frame of mind and whether they'll be able to get up and get ready to play?
Answer: They've practiced well, and it seems like they're practicing with energy and spirit, so I think they're getting ready to have another go at it.
Q: How much does a team's attitude about the bowl in general affect the game?
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A: I think it's really important. If you go with the attitude that you don't want to be there, you have a hard time winning the game.
Q: When you look back at this season, are there a lot of what-ifs? Do you say to yourself, 'We could have easily finished 10-2?'
A: Easy is a relative term. We also easily could have been 4-8. Yeah, we could have won the South Carolina, Mississippi State and Tennessee games, but we also could have lost to Louisville, Auburn and Georgia.
Q: A lot of the players and fans still haven't gotten over the Tennessee loss. Where does that rank among your toughest losses?
A: Unfortunately I have too many to rank them, but it's right up there. It's hard. Four of the seven years we've been in position to win in regulation and didn't get it done. I think it's more of the cumulative effect of those four missed chances than a specific one. Every now and then, one of those types of games happens but, when four of them happen in a seven-year period, it hurts.
Q: How would you rate the job you've done at Kentucky since you arrived in 2003?
A: I'm not where I would like to be at this point. I would like to compete for an SEC championship. We still need to win more of the games we've typically lost and break more of the negative streaks. We've done some of that, but haven't accomplished everything I've hoped.
Q: How close are you to getting there?
A: I think we're close. The major difference is, other than a game or two in the last four years, we haven't been in a game we didn't have an opportunity to win or didn't compete. That wasn't true my first three years here. And as I look back at previous years, that wasn't true in most cases.
Q: Do you feel like it's been lost, what you accomplished this season despite losing Jeremy Jarmon, despite Trevard Lindley being hurt most of the season, and despite starting a true freshman quarterback the second half of the year? Have you become a victim of your own success?
A: I think it's gotten really lost. But I don't think I've become a victim of my own success. I'm pleased that people aren't happy with where we finished because that means expectations have been raised, and that's what I wanted to do. But if you look at how this thing shook out and how we got to where we got this year, I'd say what has gotten lost is how much the overall depth and talent on this team has improved when you can go through those kind of losses at those positions and still end up being a competitive team.
Q: Did you think that you would make serious noise in 2009, or did you feel like 2010 would be the year?
A: I thought we could do it this year, and we really had a chance. The South Carolina game, playing the game without our top two corners and then losing our starting QB while we were still leading the game and then losing by two points, that was a crushing blow, a real difficult loss.
Q: Where do you see the program going from here?
A: I believe the program is in good shape. I believe we'll have an opportunity to win more next year than we won this year. Having said that, it's all based on plugging in a few holes and whether you stay healthy at the key positions or not, and what other teams do in that regard. The good news is that Kentucky is in position and should be this way for several years, to attack the rest of the league instead of hanging on and wondering how many you're going to get beat by. My frustration is that we haven't achieved it at this point. We had a chance two years ago to do it. We had a chance this year to do it. But both of those years could have been flip-flopped and been worse than they were. The good news is that our fans get frustrated when we get beat instead of leaving and not knowing they had a chance.
Q: Steve Spurrier hasn't really been able to get it going at South Carolina. What does that say about the job you and your staff have done?
A: I think, if you look at his record other than against us, he hasn't done any better than I have the last four years, once I got to a semi-level playing field. I think it speaks volumes to how hard it is to get it done in the SEC East because everybody knows Spurrier is a great coach.
Q: There's been a lot of speculation about your future. Will the Music City Bowl be your last game as the head coach of Kentucky?
A: I'll address that when the time is right.
Q: I've heard that you weren't a big fan of retirement back when you left the game after being a defensive coordinator with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. Is that true?
A: Well, I was a little younger back then. A lot has changed since then.