In case you hadn’t heard, Kentucky’s football team is looking to do a little streaking tonight in Nashville, as the Cats search for their fourth-straight bowl win. The subplot, though, is the growing feeling (among the media, at least) that Rich Brooks enters his final game as Kentucky head coach this evening.
The 68-year old Brooks, who has a contract that runs through the 2011 season, has been the subject of retirement rumors since offensive coordinator Joker Phillips was named as his successor just a few weeks after the second of the four consecutive bowl wins. Each time, Brooks has denied them and done so agressively. However, since the heartbreaking loss to Tennessee, Brooks seems a little more understated on the subject, offering simple vague responses and leaving even Joker Phillips and Mitch Barnhart to say publicaly that they’re uncertain of his plans. That uncertainty is what makes many wonder if this is the end of the Brooks era – or at least as close as he’s come to walking away.
Should Brooks make this his swan song (which based on definition means he wins), he leaves not as a great football coach or a memorable name in UK history, but as a legendary figure deserving of a place as face or figurehead of the Kentucky football program. Some might say that his 39-45 record as Kentucky head coach screams of mediocrity, but Brooks’ value to the Kentucky program is one that has gone beyond the numbers. Under his watch, Kentucky was able to rebound from the pits of probation and (gasp!) establish an actual identity as a college football program. Kentucky football is no longer an easy win on any team’s schedule and no longer a temporary distraction from basketball off-season. NFL scouts now know that they can expect pro-ready and well-coached prospects and high school recruits and coaches know they can expect development at the college level. And, of course, there’s the bowl streak (and a striking resemblence to Lester Beisner). There are some schools that can take these types of things for granted because they happen so often. Kentucky is not one of those schools. Should Rich Brooks retire after tonight’s game, anything short of a post-retirement career in receiving public reverence would be a great disservice to a guy who has revered the blue and white through good times and bad times this decade.
And, of course, if it isn’t his final game, then I apologize to you personally, Coach Brooks. Don’t beat me down publicaly and let’s go for five!