John Clay

UK's Brooks did the right thing

It wasn't like he wanted to do it.

Rich Brooks said Tuesday he felt as if he failed. That was the heartbreaking part. You have a kid who has messed up, and as a coach you try to get him back on track. Then he falls off again. And again. And a coach has to do what he doesn't want to do.

But Rich Brooks didn't fail. He gave Curtis Pulley a chance, and then a second chance, and when an entire football team was watching to see if the head coach would do what he said he would do, Rich Brooks did exactly that.

The coach dismissed from the team the player many thought would be his starting quarterback.

Bravo, Brooks.

Too often these days, coaches look the other way. Talent is such a coveted quality, talent rules. A coach excuses bad behavior. A coach says he is helping the kid, when in most cases the coach is helping the coach. He enables.

Rich Brooks is not an enabler. He's wise and solid. He means what he says. You might think that a man about to turn 67 would be desperate to win now. And Brooks wants to win. But he's not desperate. Not if he can't win the right way.

So Tuesday he had a decision to make. He could give the quarterback with more potential than dedication one more chance to get it right, and send a message that talent matters over all else. Or he could go with the quarterback, Mike Hartline, who had done ”pretty much everything we've asked him to do on and off the field,“ and send a message that at least what one coach says isn't just lip service.

This isn't to bang on Curtis Pulley. He's a college kid who has made mistakes. He has plenty of company there. Pulley had two chances to be the quarterback at UK, and fumbled away both. He has two years of eligibility left. He can still show his talent.

”He is a great player,“ said offensive coordinator Joker Phillips, who recruited Pulley. ”We just never saw it here at Kentucky.“

Mike Hartline could be a great player, too. We just don't know yet. This we do know: He wants it. Hartline was here all summer. He was often the first inside the Nutter Center, the last to leave. He organized workouts, and movie trips and meetings.

”I can remember a time in the summer,“ said senior receiver Dicky Lyons, ”when Hartline was trying to get everybody together, and somebody would get mad at him and say, "You're the quarterback and you think you're the top dog now.' But that's what you've got to do as a quarterback.“

”I've got a lot of confidence,“ said Hartline. ”I've always had a lot of confidence.“

Of course, Phillips stressed that Hartline is not the starter just yet. The sophomore enters practice sole No. 1, but Will Fidler will compete. Fidler can throw the football. He showed that in the Blue-White spring game.

But Fidler missed most of spring drills after shoulder surgery. And he allegedly did get in a fight outside a restaurant recently.

That's OK. That was Fid­ler's first offense. The facts of the case, as Brooks found them, pointed more toward a misdemeanor than a major.

And Brooks sought out the facts in Pulley's case as well. That's why he said last week that the quarterback would be punished, but could still compete for the starting job. Then more facts arrived. Push came to shove. Brooks had to make a choice.

He made the right one, whether or not Kentucky goes to a third straight bowl this season, whether or not it plays up to its potential.

”Just because someone is a player at this position or that position and perceived to be maybe more important than somebody else, those rules still apply to them,“ Brooks said on Tuesday. ”And I think it's critically important for us moving forward that unfortunately sometimes those ideals have to be reinforced to young people.“

Sometimes, even when it's no fun, a coach has to do the right thing.

That's what Rich Brooks did.