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Rich Brooks' cameo appearance gives UK a timely boost

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Rich Brooks was recognized in Commonwealth Stadium during the Oct. 12, UK vs. Alabama game. Photo by Barry Westerman, UK Athletics Rich Brooks was recognized in Commonwealth Stadium during the Oct. 12, UK vs. Alabama game. Photo by Barry Westerman, UK Athletics
A familiar face roamed the halls of the Kentucky football building earlier this week. Former head coach Rich Brooks was offering up just the prescription the Wildcats need at the moment: inspiration.

After four straight games against top-20 teams capped by last Saturday's 48-7 loss to top-ranked Alabama, a downtrodden mood overtaking the Nutter Football Training Center might be understandable.

Even though the Wildcats have just navigated through the toughest four-game stretch in school history, they still play in the Southeastern Conference, and as such face a second-half schedule which features next week's trip to what head coach Mark Stoops considers an underrated Mississippi State team, undefeated No. 14 Missouri, No. 15 Georgia and a Tennessee team which took Georgia to overtime in its last game.

But Stoops would never allow his players, coaches or even support staff to give up, let alone become discouraged.

"I was very honest with you after the game: I was frustrated and down, but we don't have any time for that," Stoops said. "Come Sunday morning, after a win or a loss, you've got to be ready to go. That's where the consistency comes in. That's what we ask of these players, and that's what each of us coaches have to do each and every day. So coaches need reminded of that from time to time. But for the most part, our coaches have been very consistent."

By no means do any of Stoops' words fall upon disinterested ears on the UK campus. Still, when Stoops' statements are reiterated by a UK legend who has successfully undertaken many of the challenges facing the current UK football team, such remarks take on added weight.

Enter Brooks.

The former coach was in town for the Alabama game, and he received a rousing Commonwealth Stadium ovation upon being introduced on the field between the first and second quarters. Brooks made the rounds to all his old Lexington stomping grounds during his time in town, but his time around the football team seems to have made the most lasting impression.

The former UK coach met with the current man at the helm of the program, the two hit it off and Brooks described some past experiences leading UK to help encourage the current group of Wildcats.

"I talked to Coach Brooks yesterday for a good while," Stoops said on Tuesday. "I really enjoyed it. That's the second time we got a chance to sit down and talk, and I love visiting with him and have a lot of respect for Coach Brooks and what he's done, and I want him to feel welcome and be around here. He came to practice today and I asked him to talk to the team for a little bit, and it was great. It was a great message."

As it turns out, the current 1-5 Wildcats are in a position similar to a team from relatively early in Brooks' tenure. In 2006, with Kentucky looking to be on track for a fourth losing seasons in a row a 49-0 loss to LSU made the Cats 3-4 on the year.

Brooks saw fit to tell the story of how those Wildcats picked themselves off the mat, and bounced back to salvage the season after a disappointing first half was capped by a big loss to a SEC power.

"I just think they need to know there are better things in the future, and that they're improving," Brooks said of his address to the players. "The improvement they've shown even since the start of the year fundamentally and competitively hasn't shown up in the won-loss column, but it could happen at any time."

Perhaps Brooks' words could spur somewhat of a reprisal in UK history.

The 2006 Wildcats had a bye off the big loss before traveling to Mississippi State, much like the 2013 edition of the team does now. Kentucky beat Mississippi State 34-31, and went on to win four straight and five of its last six games, which included a memorable win over Clemson in the Music City Bowl.

Brooks' message made an impression on UK coaches and players alike.

"I thought that was a good message," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "I think we're probably in a little bit different situation as far as where we're at (with the) youth of our team. But I think obviously we got handily beat like they did and we've got an opportunity to bounce back and go down to Starkville and have a chance to turn our season around."

Senior members of the team like Mister Cobble and Avery Williamson, who are quite familiar with Brooks considering he was head coach when their recruitment process began, were also moved by the striking similarities between the two teams' plot.

"He reinforced the motivation not to give up on the season just because the first half didn't go the way it should have gone," Williamson, who leads the SEC in tackles, said. "We just have to keep grinding, and as leaders we have to keep the guys motivated. We need a confidence booster to keep everybody going because we still have a long six games to go."

For his part, Brooks very much enjoyed the ovation received from the Big Blue Nation during Saturday's game, and he, like much of the Big Blue Nation is excited about the program's direction under Stoops.

"It was nice to be recognized," Brooks said. "I'm hopeful that the program can get back and compete at the upper level of the SEC where they can be able to knock off teams like we were fortunate enough to do during my last three-year period there.

"I think (Stoops) is truly a professional. He and his staff are doing a good job of coaching fundamentals. They seem to be off to a great recruiting year for the incoming season so I think they will get the play-makers that they need to compete moving forward."

Brooks' comments were in line with what Stoops has been preaching to his team of late, and the message he will continue to hammer home over the next few days. While the UK coaching legend's speech to the team certainly provided much-needed positive reinforcement, Stoops knows his team's goals are only attainable through hard work.

 Just ask Brooks, hard work was how the 2006 team achieved its success.

"That was good to hear, but I'm not getting that far ahead of myself; I'm worried about one," Stoops said of Brooks' story about the 2006 season. "I would just like to get one, but it was good to hear that. And I think that's where he started turning the program. It just clicked and it turned and they had some good success from there. So it was good to hear those stories and just visit with him."

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