There’s no question that this season has been a bit of a strange one for UK’s football team. A quick 2-0 start had people cautiosly optimistic before losses to three straight ranked teams stirred up the Negative Nancies. Rich Brooks’ crew responded with a road win at Auburn in Morgan Newton’s first start and, after another win against Louisiana-Monroe, suffered a disappointing loss to Mississippi State. However, the Cats responded with victory in a losable game at Vandy and an upset of Georgia in Athens. So, as we’ve been so many times already this season, here we are. The positivity is abounding again around UK’s football program and, should they knock off Tennessee, UK could be playing as the favorite in a New Year’s bowl game.
Call the doctor if that lasts more than four hours.
But, now having removed ourselves a few days from the upset in Athens, it only seems relevent to again ask a question we posed a month ago: Is this Rich Brooks best UK coaching job yet? We painted a picture of hypotheticals and “what if” scenarios a month ago in that post and not everything went according to the way we drew it up. The general premise, though, that the job Rich Brooks has done this year is his best is not only a valid one, but it’s more solid now than it was a month ago when it was first posed.
To put it in context, think of it this way: Kentucky entered this year with a team that won 6 regular season games and won only 2 SEC games and they’ve already won 7 and 3. And while those numbers are great, wins and losses don’t tell the full story. Along the way, they lost an All-SEC defensive lineman right before the season started. Their All-American cornerback has played in about half their games. The corner on the opposite side missed a few games, leaving true freshmen at both spots. The starting quarterback went out for the year. They started a true freshman in road wins in Auburn and Athens. Their starting running back has two bad knees. Their all-world best player has battled several injuries (ankle, wrist, groin, shoulder).
But, yet, Rich Brooks now has his team in position to finish with not only their best record since he’s been at UK, but his best record as a college football coach. His 1994 Oregon team finished 9-4 and Brooks was named National Coach of the Year before taking on the challenge of building the Los Angeles Rams. Sometimes you wouldn’t know it by reading UK message boards, but Kentucky has a Hall of Fame head coach on the verge of a season better than the previous 24 of his career. This fact is not lost on Pat Forde (no, really, Pat Forde), who says Rich Brooks could be SEC Coach of the Year this year:
The Wildcats are one win away from earning coach Rich Brooks The Dash’s SEC Coach of the Year honors. Their ability to turn an injury-riddled season of modest expectations into seven victories has been a testament to Brooks’ resilient nature. They won last week in Athens for the first time since 1977 and now seek to beat Tennessee for the first time since 1984. Dash stat: The Vols have beaten the Cats in every conceivable fashion — from ahead, from behind, in shootouts, in defensive struggles, in good weather and in bad. In the five-year stretch from 1996-2000, Tennessee scored at least 56 points in every meeting and won each game by at least 28 points. Dash prediction: Tennessee 28, Kentucky 26.
While I fully understand this is built on a couple of “what ifs” again this season, I still think it’s important to think about where the Kentucky football team is right now and how close they are to turning this season from good to great. Football is a lot different than basketball in the way that things can change from week to week. There is one thing that has been very consistent the last couple of years under Rich Brooks, though, and that’s the intensity and heart his teams have played with. Rich Brooks’ team has faced adversity all year and they’ve responded instead of folding and there is perhaps no better gauge of leadership than that resolve.
So, he might hang ’em up at the end of the year. He might come back and try to make one or two or three more runs at this thing. One thing we can count on though, is that although this old man might deserve a lot of credit, he’d probably just settle for a win on Senior Night. And that’s what makes him Rich Brooks.