KERRI BROOKS: Rich Brooks, a Hero

Rich Brooks, the legend. That is not a typo, it is the truth. Last weekend my father was able to head west for the induction of himself and his entire 1994 football team into the Oregon Hall of Fame. I can only imagine how wonderful he must have felt, because everyone was happy to see him.

In Oregon, a decade after taking a storied trip to the Rose Bowl, Rich Brooks is still a hero. He is applauded as the man who turned Oregon into a top notch football program, and forever changed the face of University of Oregon Athletics. It is a proud moment, and a relief from the current stress in Kentucky, to know that people want to pat him on his back and shake his hand. "Coach Brooks! Coach Brooks!" They are genuinely glad to see him, and want to be around him. He is hailed in Oregon, and rightfully so.

When he took the job at Oregon, it was before scholarship limitations were instituted. A school like USC (The #1 Trojans, not the Gamecocks), could sign as many players into their program as they could afford. (Lets be real, they could afford whatever they wanted!) How could a small unsuccessful school go and recruit kids away from the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles schools who had proven winning records? Rich Brooks found a way. He laid the ground work, and slowly ramped up the team by taking the Ducks to the Independence Bowl, Freedom Bowl; and he constantly worked behind the scenes fighting to upgrade the facilities. He changed the level of the playing field, and turned Oregon into a school to be reckoned with.

To see the picture more clearly it helps to view the win-loss record of the Ducks in his first seven seasons 24-49-4, then look at his last 11 seasons where the Ducks went 67-60. Oregon had its first bowl appearance in 26 years at the Independence Bowl in 1989, and followed that up with another record by having Oregon's first time ever back to back bowl appearances by going to the Freedom Bowl in 1990.

As a child, when my father first took the job at Oregon, it was not so wonderful. I remember back to back 2-9 seasons, and as a 6th and 7th grader, my peers were telling me how my father should be fired. Kids I went to school with told me that my Dad ought to run for the hills because he "sucked at coaching". It is funny how life is. I have pictures with those same friends, in all their Oregon gear, proudly representing Oregon at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, one of them wearing a t-shirt that read "Rich Brooks for President." They were hailing the same coach that years ago they thought ought to run for the hills. I always knew better.

Well by now you already know, Rich Brooks isn't running. I just hope he isn't running out of time. I feel like he is living in a bad dream, perhaps a recurring one. After going 4-0 to start the year in his first season as Head Coach of the St. Louis Rams, we (I think I wish I had been a player, because I certainly consider myself part of every team my Dad has ever coached for) lost our starting quarterback to injury during the year. Starting a rookie quarterback in his second year, the kitchen got hot. He was in the middle of the rebuilding process by drafting at needed positions, dealing with salary caps, and balancing deals and contracts. After only 2 years, he was let go, and his vision was left in the lurch, unfulfilled.

Analysts, coaches, players, and anyone who followed the situation felt he was given a raw deal. The enormous job of rebuilding that team in two years was a difficult task.

(Rams W-L 1990 5-11, 1991 3-13, 1992 6-10, 1993 5-11, 1994 4-12) The Rams had not had a winning season since 1989, and Brooks first year in 1995 posted a 7-9 win loss record, followed up by a 6-10 record in his last season. The foundation was being laid, but he was unable to finish what he had started.

Looking at our first game against Louisville, I thought the Wildcats held promise for the year. Then the injury onslaught began, and the train seems to have derailed. I don't care who your coach is, with 18 players having gone under the knife since fall camp, there is no one who is going to do any better with what Kentucky has. Kentucky has an injured, inexperienced young team, competing in the nation's toughest conference.

If we take a look at how Kentucky got to this point, we can see how we are going to turn the corner. In 2000, Tommy Cook joined the Wildcats, and is the only player left from this class, as a sixth-year senior. In 2001, the NCAA violations starting rearing their ugly head, and UK lost out on signing four high school All-Americans who seemed to be headed to Kentucky. (Losing all-star high-school players and top recruits is one of the many realisms you have to deal with when under investigation and possible NCAA sanctions.) Of this recruiting class of 25, you have seven players currently on the roster. For the 2002 recruiting class of 16 scholarships, you again have only seven players on the current roster.

The point in sharing this with you is to point out not only how the attrition of the players who should currently be upper classmen is taking a toll on the team, but to take a look at what is occurring since Brooks and Company took over. In 2003, Kentucky signed 18 players who counted to this class, 12 of these players are still Cats. In Brooks' first full–year recruiting class, UK was limited to 22 scholarships, and of those players, 17 remain on the team. In 2005, UK was able to sign its first full class of 25 since restrictions were lifted, and all of these players remain with the team. Those recent classes are the foundation for a solid football program.

You can't build a solid program with three coaching changes in three years. (I am counting from the end of Mumme's tenure, Morris's short stint, and then Brooks hire in December 2002). You also can't build a solid foundation when you are unable to successfully recruit some of the top high school prospects, because those kids want to play in bowl games, which Kentucky was not going to be able to do. They don't refer to it as "building" a program for nothing. Just like building a house, it does not happen overight. You first have to lay a solid foundation; then you can start putting up walls, and laying in electrical and plumbing. It doesn't seem like much when you see the foundation alone, but when those walls start going up and the house starts taking shape, it becomes more real.

The foundation has been laid, and the walls have started going up, but this house will not be a home until the roof is put on and the first coat of paint has dried. I liken the situation in Kentucky to a Hurricane. Although the eye may be hundreds of miles away, the outer bands are still battering you on the shoreline, or this case, on the sidlelines. Watch out Mississippi, our eye is on you this weekend. We are hungry, we have everything to prove, and we have nothing to lose, but our pride.

Rich Brooks, if given the time, I know you will turn this program around just like you did at Oregon. You have already proven that you are capable of doing that. Rich Brooks, I also know that given time you will be a hero in Lexington. For now, and for always, you are, and always will be, a hero to me. Good Luck Dad, Beat Mississippi!

Kerri Brooks is a CBS camera operator with substantial college football and NFL experience. Her job takes her to venues throughout the country, and she is fortunate to have met and formed relationships with many football coaches, analysts, and other experts in the field. And yes, she is the proud daughter of UK head football coach Rich Brooks. Visit with "BrooksDaughter" on the KSR Premium messageboard, where she appears to talk football, answer questions, and just be another UK football fan.

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