Sports

Brooks deserves a few breaks in '09

John Clay
John Clay

It was a bad week for a pair of bad-boy coaches with former Big Blue ties, their flaws exposed in high def for all SportsCenter to see.

No sooner had scandal-sheet star Rick Pitino boarded the crazy train to reprimand the media for providing both sides of a story, then there was video of Billy Gillispie sporting an orange jail jumpsuit after someone spotted his Mercedes doing the electric slide all over an Anderson County highway.

To paraphrase country cutie Carrie Underwood, who sings "the more boys I know, the more I love my dog," the more ex-UK coaches I know, the more I appreciate Rich Brooks.

I exclude Tubby Smith, the consummate class act, who found a safe haven among the snow drifts in Minnesota, where surely the thought of all this Commonwealth craziness warms up his hot chocolate.

But back to Brooks. The last time I checked, the Kentucky football coach wasn't ordering off the menu, or telling state troopers he left his proof of insurance in the golf bag located in his trunk.

Instead, Brooks has been doing what he's always done, pushing a moribund football program up the mountain of respectability toward new heights. He's done so while keeping a mischievous twinkle in his wise old eyes, and his mug shot out of the tabloids.

Seems to me a guy like that ought to catch a break or two, especially given the ticking of the inevitable clock. I'm not saying Brooks is ready to hand appointed successor Joker Phillips the keys and turn his full-time attention to casting hooks on Oregon's waterways. Such premature prattling gets the coach's blood boiling. But if this does happen to be a retirement party, seems to me the man deserves to go out with a bang.

And maybe he can.

Despite Florida's undeniable power, and all the Southeastern Conference's traditional chest-pounding, this could be a rare down, er, transition year for what is traditionally the nation's best football conference.

After all, Tennessee has turned its fortunes to the green-as-grass Lane Kiffin, who keeps talking before called upon. Auburn hired 5-19 Gene Chizik in hopes he will straighten out its screwball program. Meanwhile, at Mississippi State, new coach Dan Mullen is dealing with inevitable first-year Starkville shock.

Meanwhile, others are spinning their wheels. Steve Spurrier's star is fading in the South Carolina night. At Louisiana State, Les Miles might have to use his beloved white cap to plug another hole in his leaky defense. At Georgia, Mark Richt has to break in a new quarterback while also shoring up a defense more junk than Junkyard Dawg.

In other words, opportunity exists, provided the Cats can take advantage of the depressed market.

The guess here is they can. The Cats will open 2-0 with wins over Miami (Ohio) and Louisville, then slip to 2-2 with home-field losses to Florida and Alabama. It's the fifth and sixth games, both SEC road trips, that will color the campaign.

I see a split. A loss at South Carolina on Oct. 10 will precede a momentous triumph at Auburn on Oct. 17, one that starts a five-game win streak. Louisiana-Monroe, Mississippi State, Eastern Kentucky and Vanderbilt will all fall to the roll of Brooks' ball.

The Cats will lose at Georgia on Nov. 21, but then gleefully snap that long losing streak to Tennessee, whipsawing the Vols at a joyful Commonwealth.

That breaks down to 8-4 overall, with a 4-4 conference mark, qualifying for a fourth straight bowl trip, in this case the Chick-fil-A Bowl, turning the prize of the Peachtree State back into Cat-lanta.

Optimistic, you say? Definitely. Nuts, you say? Possibly. It'll take good health and a few fortuitous bounces of the pigskin. But it's doable.

Besides, Rich Brooks deserves it.

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