Brooks Retires at Kentucky

Jan. 4, 2010

Additional coverage: Live blog replay | More from Cat Scratches | Press conference video and quote transcript | Brooks photo gallery

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Rich Brooks had two goals when he became the head football coach at the University of Kentucky.

First, stay on the job longer than any head coach in school history.

Second, leave the program in better shape than when he found it.

The first goal will not be met, but it is on his terms as Brooks has chosen to retire after seven seasons with the Wildcats.

The second goal undoubtedly has been achieved, as Brooks became the first coach to take Kentucky to four-consecutive bowl games and the first to win three-straight bowls.

"Rich Brooks changed the culture and the direction of the University of Kentucky football program," said UK President Dr. Lee Todd. "He was willing to take the heat and face the critics in the early years and build our program the right way. His no-nonsense, high-integrity approach earned the respect of his players, our fans and the media.

"It has been a pleasure having Rich as our football coach because I always knew that whatever decisions he was making were in the best interest of the program and his students. The University is grateful for his impact on our program and for paving the way for future success."

"The University of Kentucky cannot begin to express its thanks to Rich and Karen Brooks for their contributions to the Wildcat football program," said Mitch Barnhart, UK Director of Athletics. "Rich took a program from a very difficult time and raised it to respectability on a national level, all the while doing it with dignity and class.

"His toughness was a trademark for the program he put together. The foundation that he has laid will give those that follow an opportunity to experience success on a conference and national level. I wish him all the happiness he deserves in his retirement and look forward to continuing our friendship for many years to come."

The achievements are even more remarkable when one considers the rebuilding job done by Brooks, who took over a program for the 2003 season that was burdened by the effects of NCAA probation. Inheriting a low number of players and further hampered by probation-imposed scholarship reductions, Brooks had only 70 recruited scholarship players for the 2003 season, 72 recruited scholarship players in 2004, and just 69 for the '05 campaign - well below the NCAA maximum of 85.

The results were predictable as Kentucky produced a 9-25 record for the 2003-05 seasons. But all along, Brooks and his coaching staff were building a program. The fruits of patient coaching and tireless recruiting were realized when the Wildcats went 8-5 in the 2006 season, capped by an upset of highly favored Clemson in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl. It was the most wins for a Kentucky team and first bowl victory since 1984.

Additional highlights of the '06 campaign included:

  • Third place in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division, UK's best league finish since 1993
  • A final national ranking of 28 th in the Sagarin Computer Ratings published in USA Today
  • One of the 10 most improved teams in the nation, based on a five-win improvement from 2005
  • The first win in an SEC opener in 19 years
  • The first win over Georgia in 10 years
  • A win over Mid-American Conference champion Central Michigan
  • Three-consecutive fourth-quarter comeback victories over Georgia, Vanderbilt and Louisiana-Monroe
  • Following the season, Brooks was recognized for his performance by the Kentucky chapter of the National Football League Players Association Alumni, which gave him the Blanton Collier Award in recognition of his on-the-field accomplishments and off-the-field steadiness that were hallmarks of Collier, the former UK and Cleveland Browns head coach.

More dramatic results were produced in 2007 - another eight-win season, coming against a schedule rated as high as the fifth-most difficult in the nation - capped by a Music City Bowl triumph over perennial power Florida State. Additional landmarks featured:

  • UK defeated two top-10 ranked opponents, then-No. 9 Louisville and eventual national champion LSU. It was the first time since 1977 that UK defeated a top-10 ranked team. It was only the third time in school history, and the first in 43 years, that UK knocked off a pair of top-10 ranked foes in the same season
  • Kentucky's win over No. 1 LSU was only the third time in school history, and the first since 1964, that the Wildcats dispatched a top-ranked team
  • UK had back-to-back eight-win seasons for the first time in 30 years, since 1976-77
  • UK won back-to-back bowl games for only the second time in school history, and the first time in 56 years, since the 1950-51 seasons
  • UK defeated three conference champions - opening the season with a win over Eastern Kentucky, the eventual Ohio Valley Conference champ; later beating Florida Atlantic, the eventual Sun Belt titlist; and then LSU, the eventual SEC and national champion
  • Kentucky returned to The Associated Press national rankings for the first time in 23 seasons, since the 1984 campaign. The Wildcats were in the rankings for eight weeks, reaching as high as No. 8. Kentucky did not finish the season in the top 25, but were third among other teams receiving votes
  • Kentucky was listed in the BCS poll for the first time in school history. The Wildcats were ranked as high as No. 7 in the BCS rating
  • Five of the six computer ratings used in the BCS system put Kentucky in the nation's top 25 teams in the season-ending results. Kentucky's final ranking was as high as No. 18 as listed in the Sagarin Ratings
  • Kentucky completed an eight-game home winning streak, most ever in Commonwealth Stadium
  • Kentucky set school records for total attendance (550,588) and average attendance (68,824)
  • Brooks was a finalist for the Liberty Mutual National Coach of the Year Award.

Simply going to postseason play in 2008 was a big achievement for the Wildcats, who had massive graduation departures from 2007, then sustained major losses to key personnel during the '08 campaign.

Despite the obstacles, the team reflected Brooks' hard-nosed attitude and fought its way to a 7-6 record and another bowl championship. Along the way, UK posted come-from-behind fourth-quarter victories over Middle Tennessee, Arkansas and, finally, Conference USA champ East Carolina in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Rallying to win in the fourth quarter became a trademark for Brooks' teams. In the '07 win over Arkansas, for example, UK tied the school record for overcoming the largest fourth-quarter deficit in school history. The Wildcats trailed 20-7 with only five minutes to go before posting two late TDs to win, 21-20. It's not surprising that the previous time a 13-point deficit was erased in the fourth quarter was also by a Brooks team, in the 2004 season vs. Vanderbilt.

UK's win over East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl was another of Brooks' coaching gems. Trailing 16-3 at halftime, a fiery speech motivated his team to yet another fourth-quarter comeback triumph. In the process, it was the first time in school history that Kentucky had won bowl games following three consecutive seasons.

The milestones continued to mount during Brooks' final campaign in 2009.

  • Kentucky won seven games, marking the first time since 1909-12 that UK had won at least seven games in four-consecutive seasons
  • UK completed a school-record streak of 18-straight wins over non-conference opponents
  • The Wildcats scratched out three more fourth-quarter comeback wins, this time over in-state rival Louisville, at Auburn and at Georgia. All totaled, UK had 12 fourth-quarter comeback victories in Brooks' final four seasons
  • The win at Auburn was UK's first victory over the Tigers since 1966
  • The win at Georgia was UK's first in Athens since 1977
  • Three SEC road wins for the first time since 1977
  • For the third year in a row, UK fans set the school record for average attendance, this time averaging 69,594 per home game
  • Kentucky completed the season by playing in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl, the first time UK participated in postseason play in four-consecutive years.

Brooks also received an individual accolade when named him the 2009 SEC Coach of the Year.

Brooks' versatile coaching abilities were reflected in the various achievements made by his offensive, defensive and special teams units.

Under Brooks, Kentucky had a 3,000-yard passer twice (Andre' Woodson, the fourth player in school history to do so), a 1,000-yard rusher twice (Rafael Little, sixth player in history to do so), and 1,000-yard receivers twice (Keenan Burton and Steve Johnson, third and fourth players in school history).

After the aforementioned players graduated in 2007, the maturing Wildcat defense helped set the tone in Brooks' last two seasons. Since 2006, UK has improved from 118 th in the nation in total defense to 59 th this year. In the same time frame, UK has improved from 99 th to 44 th in the nation in scoring defense.

Special teams often have been a bright spot under Brooks. For example, the Wildcats fielded the nation's best overall punt and kickoff return teams in 2005 and 2006. School and national records have been broken for punt returns, kickoff returns and blocked kicks. Kentucky kickers have set scoring records.

Brooks' teams also posted accomplishments in the classroom. UK had a first-team Academic All-American from 2005-08, with only one other school in the nation able to make that claim. In 2005, UK led the nation by having three players on the Academic All-America squad. Hayden Lane and Jacob Tamme were the 2006 and 2007 SEC Football Scholar-Athletes of the Year, the first time in league history that one school had back-to-back winners of the award.

Brooks also has encouraged his players' participation in campus and civic activities, leading to three players named to the National Good Works Team for community service. Brooks set a good example in that area by making numerous contributions and personal appearances on behalf of charitable causes.

Brooks' amazing turnaround of Kentucky's football fortunes marked the second time in his career that he has resurrected a troubled program. He followed a similar course at the University of Oregon from 1977-94, taking a downtrodden team and eventually advancing to four bowls in his final six seasons. The 1994 season was his best, as he led the Ducks to the Rose Bowl and Brooks was named National Coach of the Year.

In his rebuilding jobs at Oregon and Kentucky, Brooks has a career record of 130-156-4, including 91-109-4 in 18 years at Oregon and 39-47 in seven seasons at UK. He went 30-22 in his final four seasons with the Wildcats.

A native of Forest, Calif., the 68-year-old Brooks played his collegiate football at Oregon State while obtaining his bachelor's and master's degrees. He coached at Oregon State and UCLA, and also had NFL stints with the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49'ers, before landing the head coaching role at Oregon.

After leaving Oregon, Brooks returned to the pro game and was head coach of the St. Louis Rams (1995-96) and defensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons (1997-2000). He left the NFL for another chance as a collegiate head coach, a risk that paid off when he took a job at an apparent longshot at Kentucky.

In retirement, Brooks will enjoy more time with his wife, Karen, four children (daughters Kasey and Kerri, sons Denny and Brady), five grandchildren, and countless friends made during a lifetime of coaching. He'll also have more time for his hobbies of fishing and golfing.

And, when he looks back at his years in the Bluegrass State, it can be with satisfaction for a job well done. He built a winner with the Wildcats and fulfilled his goal -- leaving the program in better shape than when he found it.