Rich Brooks says he has no regrets about stepping down as Kentucky's football coach and that retirement is suiting him fine.
So far, that is.
But Brooks, who handed the program over to Joker Phillips in January, knows the real litmus test won't come until fall camp starts and the pads start popping. When asked if he missed coaching yet, Brooks said, "I think that remains to be seen. Once the season actually starts, that's when I'll find out how much I miss it. I do know this much: I miss the players and coaches and that part of it. What I don't miss are the headaches, the worry, the concerns about who's doing what and who's doing what right."
Brooks has kept busy the past several months, spending time with his children and grandchildren, playing plenty of golf and doing plenty of fishing.
He returned to his Northern California roots earlier this month, serving as the grand marshal in the Grass Valley Festival Fourth of July Parade and fishing at nearby Lake Almanor.
Brooks, 68, has always been an old-school, nuts-and-bolts football guy whose biggest pleasure was being out on the practice field. And when Phillips took the field for his first spring practice as head coach, Brooks was often in the background observing or talking to onlookers.
Brooks and his wife, Karen, have spent most of the summer at their home in Western Oregon. But they also kept their home in Lexington, and Brooks plans on being in town for most of the football season.
But Brooks said he will back off in the fall and give Phillips some space to do his job in his first year at the helm.
"I don't think it's appropriate that I go to a lot of practices," Brooks said. "I certainly will go see a practice before the Louisville game and check in with the players and coaches, but I'm not going to be hanging around like a vulture."
Brooks ended his seven-year UK tenure with one of the most successful runs in school history, leading the Wildcats to an unprecedented four consecutive bowl appearances. But Brooks said he walked away feeling as though he didn't quite finish what he started.
"I didn't accomplish what I set out to accomplish," he said. "I wanted to end more of those streaks and try and win an SEC championship. We didn't quite reach that level, but I was pleased that we were able to make Kentucky football competitive."
After losing seasons in his first three years, Brooks closed with campaigns of 8-5, 8-5, 7-6 and 7-6. But the Cats never finished higher than third in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division and were unable to stop embarrassing losing streaks against Tennessee (25 games), Florida (23) and South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier (17).
Brooks thinks Phillips can take Kentucky football to the next level.
"I think he's doing what he needs to do," he said. "He's working very, very hard. He has a great interest in developing young men. He's working hard at recruiting and selling the program. Now he needs to go out and obviously win some games."
Brooks also thinks Phillips needs some help from the administration to make UK a perennial SEC contender. One of the issues concerning Brooks as he pondered retirement were facilities, including two issues that remain on the table: a renovation of Commonwealth Stadium, and a multi-purpose recruiting room that has been discussed for several years but still hasn't broken ground. Brooks said Kentucky also needs to strive to stay in the upper half of the SEC when it comes to assistant coaches' salaries.
"Money has to be invested in the football program for the program to reach the next level; I just believe that," he said. "At Oregon, we did it on a little bit of a shoestring budget at first, then the money started to roll in and we had major improvements in our facilities. We ultimately won the Pac-10 championship, and now Oregon has some of the nation's best facilities. Kentucky facilities are not bad, but the stadium needs to be brought into the level of the other stadiums you compete in. That brings in more revenue from sky boxes and things of that nature."
Brooks said he read a recent study that listed UK 29th in the nation in net revenue among BCS programs. While that number is helped by the SEC's revenue-sharing of television and bowl money, Brooks said those figures suggest there's room for more of a commitment.
"That's close to being in the top 25," he said. "If you invest more in facilities, then the revenue has a chance to grow, and with that comes more high-profile recruits."
At the time of Brooks' retirement, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart estimated that nearly $10 million was spent in facilities upgrades during Brooks' tenure, including a new playing surface at Nutter Field House, new practice fields at the Nutter Training Center, new locker rooms at Nutter and Commonwealth Stadium, and new team meeting rooms.
"I love Rich's passion for college football and for wanting Kentucky football to be better," Barnhart said. "He certainly left the program in much better shape than when he found it. The reality is we've tried to address a lot of different things. We've done plenty of upgrades debt-free, without adding any debt to the university. Now for us to make the next leap, there are things we need to do, and we're aware of that. We don't want to be second-rate when it comes to facilities. We're taking somewhat of a methodical approach, but believe me, we're working on it. It's a marathon, not a sprint."
Brooks, who'll turn 69 in August, said he is done with coaching. But with his experience and expertise, could an administrative job be in his future?
"I wouldn't rule it out, but I'd say it's very unlikely," he said. "It would depend on the situation, but it's very unlikely."
For now he seems content to enjoy family, fishing and a little football.