VAUGHT: Neal proud to be UK alum

As a former Kentucky football player, Dan Neal took great delight in watching UK play last season.

As a former Kentucky football player, Dan Neal took great delight in watching UK play last season.

"I absolutely enjoyed. It was so much fun. I wanted them to beat Tennessee to put the icing on cake for the senior class for them more than me or the fans. That was disappointing that they couldn't get that win over Tennessee," Neal said. "But they brought this program back. They have made the whole state proud of the football operation.

"Obviously (coach Rich) Brooks has done a great job. His leadership helped bring the type of character kids that he brought to this team. It makes me proud to be a Kentucky alum. A lot of years we were not able to say that, but these last two seasons made you proud to be a Wildcat."

While Brooks was an unknown to most UK fans when he was hired five years ago, Neal knew about him because he had played and coached in the NFL. He also had friends that knew Brooks.

"I respected him and believed if he was given the right time, he would do the job," Neal, who lives in Louisville, said. "I told friends here in Louisville that good coaches have to still have good players. When he came, there were not that many good players on the team. It took a while to develop them and build them up.

"With Kentucky now committing to Joker (Phillips) to take over, things are really looking good. I am so tickled. Joker is an excellent coach and person. He fits perfectly into the whole mold of what Kentucky should be trying to do and develop with him taking over. I am excited about the whole situation. What Mitch (Barnhart) did as athletics director to be patient with Rich and also make sure Joker is in the fold is exactly what he should have done and we are seeing the results from that."

Neal admits he was "tickled" that a former Kentucky player will eventually be the UK head coach.

"Joker is a good coach now, but he will be an even better head coach when it is time for him to take over," Neal said. "As an alum and coach, he knows how hard it is to build a program and get it going. Coach brooks has started the job and keeping Joker gives stability from somebody within the program who knows what it will take to keep it going.

"I never worked for Rich, but I knew what type person he was. I am glad he was able to get the corner turned with the program and I am glad Joker is the one that will carry this program forward."

Neal says Brooks has made him feel "very, very welcome" at Kentucky and that he likes and respects the UK coach. But he says not to underestimate Barnhart's importance to the program.

"I am really tickled Mitch had the patience to stay with him when everybody was beating down the door and saying he could not win. Mitch could have easily bailed on Rich, and that would not have helped the program. It's not easy sometimes to make the right choice, but Mitch did that and now the program is one I am really proud to say I was part of," Neal said.

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