UK Football

Players: Coach had a big heart

There was the Rich Brooks that stalked the sidelines for seven seasons.

"He'd walk around with those sunglasses on, and he'd always say, 'It's a great day to be alive and be a Wildcat,' " junior defensive lineman Ricky Lumpkin said. "I'm going to miss that a lot."

That was the Rich Brooks that the rest of the Wildcat world knew, too.

But there was a different Rich Brooks, the one only his players knew.

"Coach Brooks is real goofy," Lumpkin said. "He likes to have fun with us; chest bump with us. He'd take us out to the pool during camp and swim with us, dive off the diving board, slide down the slide. He's a kid at heart."

But Brooks, the 68-year-old man, announced Monday he's ready to retire as head football coach at UK.

"It's the end of the road for the old man," Brooks told the media.

The news filtered out slowly to Brooks' players, who are still on holiday break all around the country.

Most of them already knew their coach's retirement was likely. Some had been predicting it since the middle of the season, sophomore receiver Randall Cobb said.

The players thought they were prepared for it, but when Brooks told them after their Music City Bowl loss he was 80 percent sure he was going to retire, the flood gates opened.

"It got real emotional in the locker room after he told us," Lumpkin said. "No one wants to hear his head coach is leaving."

The three players that were brought into the post-bowl news conference looked dejected, and not just from the loss to Clemson.

"It made the loss that much tougher to swallow," said defensive lineman Corey Peters after the bowl. "To find out this is possibly the last game for him, it makes it hurt that much more. You want to get the win for him. ... That's when it really hit me that it was over."

Fellow senior Zipp Duncan was quiet when asked about his head coach, too.

"He's taught us a lot and helped us become successful in life, not just on the football field — things like being a man, raising a family," Duncan said.

Many of the players who came to UK did so because of Brooks the coach and Brooks the man, Lumpkin said.

When the coach recruited Lumpkin's class of 2006, the program was still struggling with the aftershocks of NCAA probation and reduced scholarships.

"He was honest with every one that came in," Lumpkin said. "He sold us on the dream of turning this program around. Thanks to him, we lived that dream. We have three bowl championships."

It was that success that made players such as Cobb want to go to UK.

"He definitely brought Kentucky from nothing and turned it into something," the sophomore said of Brooks.

But Cobb, who was reached driving back to Lexington from his home in Tennessee, said it was the off-the-field lessons that will mean the most.

Brooks has served as a mentor to Cobb, who would like to be a head coach himself some day.

"He's told me things and he's shown me the mentality you have to have and the way you have to show respect to players," Cobb said.

Brooks definitely respected his players. When asked on Monday how he managed to rebuild the UK program, it was one of the few times that Brooks' steady, sure voice cracked.

"Just hard work," he said, "and outstanding young men."

If they are outstanding, much of it is because of that coach stalking the sidelines in his sun glasses.

"He gave us the heart we needed to win games," Lumpkin said. "We know he'll be back for games, and we don't want to embarrass him. Hopefully, we can make him proud."

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