John Clay

Brooks did it his way

The man was the genuine article.

They used to say that a lot. They don't say it as much anymore, mainly because they don't make them much like Rich Brooks anymore.

The 68-year-old retired Monday morning after seven years as head football coach at the University of Kentucky, and in those seven years there was nothing much insincere about the man, nothing false, nor pretentious, nor over-the-top.

Rich Brooks didn't give you that self-serving talk about his program always doing the right thing, like so many other coaches do. He didn't go on and on about how this was the greatest place, or his were the greatest kids, or bore you with how hard he and his staff worked, or how important his family was to him.

He didn't say any of that because he didn't have to.

Pros don't do that kind of stuff, and Rich Brooks was/is a pro. And pros put their head down, place one foot in front the other, make one improvement after another, and leave a collegiate football program in much better shape than the one they found.

That's what Rich Brooks did at Kentucky.

Oh, it hasn't beaten Florida or Tennessee, and it didn't win as many games as the head coach would have liked. That, Brooks said Monday, was his one regret. But on any given Saturday, it could go to Athens and beat a Georgia, go to Auburn and beat an Auburn, it could even upset the No. 1 ranked team in the nation (LSU, 2007).

When you think of Rich Brooks and his time here, remember this: Once the coach shed the handcuffs of probation and the scholarship-reductions he inherited, there were very few Saturdays that you went to Commonwealth Stadium and thought "Kentucky has no shot today."

This is Kentucky football we're talking about, and that's saying something.

But what I'll remember most, and respect most, is the way Brooks did it.

First off, he's the best pure football coach I've been around. His successor, Joker Phillips, told me once that Brooks was one of the few coaches he knew that could coach every position. I believe it.

He brought a much-needed consistency, a solid foundation. He didn't run one scheme one year and something else the next. He stayed true to his beliefs.

He didn't get bogged down by the little things, either. He never curried favor with the media, but he never backhanded it either. And I was hard on the man when he got here. Too hard, probably. Yet he never said a cross word, and only once did he personally object, and he was right to do so. We had our job to do. He had his job.

He was a fighter. Oh, boy. He might have been in his 60s, but Brooks' drive was somewhere in the 20s. You only had to watch him on the sidelines to know that. He could chew at (and up) a line judge, admonish an assistant, even criticize a player in the post-game press conference. And get away with it.

I wondered if Brooks could relate to today's players, only to find that what he was selling — a honesty, sincerity and professionalism — always relates.

"He wanted you to do well as a person," said Keenan Burton, "not just as a football player."

I got the former UK receiver, now St. Louis Ram, on his cell phone Monday afternoon, and even though the signal kept breaking up, the admiration in Burton's voice rang through.

When I asked him what he remembered most about his time with Brooks, the Louisville native didn't mention wins or yards or bowl games.

He said it was after his junior season, when Burton was considering leaving school early and entering the NFL draft.

"He helped me fill out the papers, and I remember him telling me, 'I'll help you the best way I can.'" said Burton. "And right then and there I knew I was in the right spot, that every thing that I had done for him, he was willing to do back for me."

That was Rich Brooks.


Rich Brooks

Biography

Born: Aug. 20, 1941, in Forest, Calif.

High school: Graduated from Nevada Union in Grass Valley, Calif., in 1959.

College: Bachelor's degree in physical education from Oregon State in 1963 and master's degree in education in 1964.

Athletic experience: Football, basketball, track and boxing at Nevada Union High School. Played defensive back and quarterback at Oregon State from 1959-62.

Coaching experience

1963: Oregon State (assistant freshman coach)

1964: Norte Del Rio High School (assistant)

1965-69: Oregon State (assistant)

1970: UCLA (assistant)

1971-72: Los Angeles Rams (assistant)

1973: Oregon State (defensive coordinator)

1974-75: San Francisco 49ers (assistant)

1976: UCLA (assistant)

1977-94: Oregon (head coach)

1995-96: St. Louis Rams (head coach)

1997-2000: Atlanta Falcons (defensive coordinator)

2003-2009: Kentucky (head coach)

HIGHLIGHTS

Became first coach in UK history to have teams in four consecutive bowl games

Led the Wildcats to victory over eventual national champion LSU in 2007, the program's first win over a No. 1 ranked team in 43 years. UK also reached the nation's top 10 for the first time in 30 years that season.

Guided Kentucky to its first bowl in seven seasons in 2006. UK finished 8-5 that season, its most wins in 22 years. Kentucky's 28-20 victory over Clemson in the Music City Bowl was also the program's first bowl win since 1984.

In 2009, led Kentucky to its first win over Auburn since 1966 and first road win at Georgia since 1977.

Finishes fourth all-time in UK history in wins behind Bear Bryant, Fran Curci and Jerry Claiborne.

Became first coach in SEC history to hire an African-American offensive coordinator (Joker Phillips) and defensive coordinator (Steve Brown) at the same time.

Led the Oregon program to back-to-back winning seasons in 1979-80 for first time in 16 years.

Led Oregon into the national rankings for the first time in 17 years during the 1980 season.

Oregon beat Tulsa in the 1989 Independence Bowl, the Ducks' first bowl berth and eight-win season in 26 years. The 1990 Freedom Bowl represented the first back-to-back bowl bids in school history.

Led Oregon to its first outright Pac-10 championship in 1994 and first Rose Bowl bid in 37 seasons. The Ducks won nine games that year, the most since 1948.

Coaching honors

1979: Pacific-10 Coach of the Year

1994: National Coach of the Year (Bear Bryant Award) by the FWAA

1994: Pacific-10 Coach of the Year

1995: Inducted into the Independence Bowl Hall of Fame

1995: University of Oregon football field named Rich Brooks Field

2007: Inducted into the University of Oregon Sports Hall of Fame

2009: Inducted into the Northern California Sports Hall of Fame

2009: SEC Coach of the Year by Collegefootballnews.com

Year-by-year record

College

Year School Record

1977 Oregon 2-9

1978 Oregon 2-9

1979 Oregon 6-5

1980 Oregon 6-3-2

1981 Oregon 2-9

1982 Oregon 2-8-1

1983 Oregon 4-6-1

1984 Oregon 6-5

1985 Oregon 5-6

1986 Oregon 5-6

1987 Oregon 6-5

1988 Oregon 6-6

1989 Oregon 8-4

1990 Oregon 8-4

1991 Oregon 3-8

1992 Oregon 6-6

1993 Oregon 5-6

1994 Oregon 9-4

2003 Kentucky 4-8

2004 Kentucky 2-9

2005 Kentucky 3-8

2006 Kentucky 8-5

2007 Kentucky 8-5

2008 Kentucky 7-6

2009 Kentucky 7-5

Totals 25 seasons 130 - 155 - 4

NFL

Year Team Record

1995 St. Louis 7-9

1996 St. Louis 6-10

Totals Two seasons 13 - 19

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