Coach Rich Brooks has become a maker of milestones for the University of Kentucky football program.
By advancing to the 2006 and `07 Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl and the 2009 AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Brooks joined Paul "Bear" Bryant as the only two coaches in school history to go to post-season games in three consecutive seasons. Brooks scored an unprecedented feat as the first Kentucky coach to win three straight bowls. He also extended UK's non-conference win streak to 14 in a row, currently the nation's second-longest active string.
Simply going to post-season play last season was a remarkable achievement for the Wildcats, who had massive graduation departures from 2007, then sustained major losses to key personnel during the 2008 campaign. Despite the obstacles, the team reflected Brooks' hard-nosed attitude and fought its way to a third-straight bowl game.
The 2008 success added to the milestones achieved in the 2007 season:
The accomplishments were a continuation of the 2006 campaign, when Kentucky went 8-5, marking UK's most wins and first bowl victory in 22 years.
Just six years after beginning to rebuild a troubled program, Brooks already is on the top-five list for victories among the 35 men who have been head coach at Kentucky.
Brooks took charge of Wildcat football on Dec. 30, 2002, inheriting a team burdened by the effects of a severe NCAA probation. He began by attracting a top-notch, diverse group of coaches. The UK staff is well-respected in the industry, having received numerous offers from professional and college teams, and features a broad range of experience in pro, college, and high-school football. Naming Joker Phillips and Steve Brown as offensive and defensive coordinators made UK the first school in Southeastern Conference history to have African-Americans in those positions at the same time.
On the field, the effects of patient coaching and tireless recruiting have become apparent. Following the '06 season, Brooks was recognized for his performance by the Kentucky chapter of the National Football League Players Association Alumni. The NFL alumni 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. Brooks was a finalist for the 2007 Liberty Mutual National Coach of the Year Award.
The Kentucky offense has made numerous achievements in recent seasons. Under Brooks, Kentucky has had a 3,000-yard passer twice (Andre' Woodson, fourth player in school history to do so), a 1,000-yard rusher twice (Rafael Little, sixth player in school history to do so), and 1,000-yard receivers (Keenan Burton and Steve Johnson, third and fourth players in school history).
After the aforementioned players graduated in 2007, the maturing Wildcat defense set the tone in 2008. Over the last three seasons, UK has improved from 118th in the nation in total defense (2006) to 67th (2007) to 40th last year. In the same time frame, UK has gone from 99th to 80th to 35th in the nation in scoring defense.
Special teams often have been a bright spot under Brooks' term at UK. For example, the Wildcats fielded the nation's top overall punt and kickoff return teams in 2005 and 2006. School and national records have been set for blocked kicks. Kentucky kickers have set scoring records.
Brooks' teams also have posted accomplishments in the classroom. UK has had a first-team Academic All-American for four consecutive seasons, with only one other school in the nation able to make that claim. In 2005, UK led the nation by having three players win a place on the Academic All-America squad.
The team's accomplishments and Brooks' vision for Kentucky football are readily apparent to potential recruits. UK's 2009 class of signees is regarded by national and local observers as the school's best in many years.
In addition to his coaching and recruiting, Brooks has made numerous public and charitable appearances while at UK and has been very accessible to the media in order to communicate his plan for Wildcat football.
Prior to Kentucky, Brooks was the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons from 1997-2000. The 1998 campaign was the most successful in Falcons' history. With Brooks' defense generating a league-leading 44 takeaways, Atlanta advanced to its only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
Late in the `98 season, Brooks took over the team when head coach Dan Reeves developed health problems. Brooks was the interim head coach for the final two games of the regular season, and the Falcons' two wins clinched the division championship and home field advantage in the divisional round of the playoffs. Reeves returned to the sidelines during the playoff games.
Brooks was head coach of the St. Louis Rams in 1995-96. The Rams had a 13-19 record in those two seasons, the team's best two-year stretch since 1989-90. The Rams won only nine games in the two years prior to his arrival and won just nine games in the two years following his departure.
As head coach at the University of Oregon from 1977-94, Brooks won more games than any previous coach in school history. After taking over a downtrodden program in `77, the milestones came steadily:
Additional achievements at Oregon included Brooks' sterling 14-3-1 record against arch-rival Oregon State in the annual game known as the "Civil War." Oregon also broke various attendance records in six consecutive years from 1987-92, including marks for total home attendance, average home attendance, and single-game attendance. His teams advanced to four bowls in the last six seasons.
Brooks coached many of the top players in school history. When he left the school after the `94 season, he had coached the top three passers in school history, including future NFL performers Chris Miller and Bill Musgrave, and also produced the school's all-time leading rusher. Brooks' Oregon teams featured five first-team All-Americans, 32 first-team all-conference performers, two first-team Academic All-Americans, two winners of the Morris Trophy (emblematic of the top lineman in the Pac-10), and 39 NFL draft choices.
Brooks also had strong coaching staffs at Oregon. Three former assistants, Mike Bellotti, Bob Toledo, and Bill Maskill, went on to head coaching jobs on the collegiate level and several of Brooks' assistants ascended to jobs in the NFL ranks.
In addition to his guidance of the Ducks, Brooks served as a head coach and/or assistant coach in several post-season all-star games, including the East-West Shrine Game, the Blue-Gray Classic, the Senior Bowl, the Hula Bowl, and the Japan Bowl. While at Kentucky, he's added the IntaJuice North-South All-Star Game to that list.
Brooks' combination of administrative skills and coaching acumen prompted the Oregon administration to offer him the dual role of director of athletics and head football coach, which he performed from 1992-94. In recognition of his numerous contributions to the school, Oregon named its football field "Brooks Field" in his honor in 1995.
And, it's worth noting that the programs Brooks built were on solid foundations for the future. After his departure from Oregon, the Ducks posted nine straight winning seasons. Three years after leaving St. Louis, the Rams won the Super Bowl, with then-coach Dick Vermeil giving Brooks credit for helping begin the process to the title.
Born in Forest, Calif., Brooks competed in football, basketball, baseball, track, and boxing at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley, Calif.
He began his collegiate career at Oregon State from 1959-62 under Coach Tommy Prothro, considered one of the top offensive strategists in the history of football and the man Brooks credits as having the greatest influence on his coaching philosophy.
Brooks was a single-wing tailback on the freshman team, then played defensive back for three years on the varsity. He was a part-time starter as a defensive back as a sophomore, then became a regular starting DB the next two seasons. As a senior, he nabbed five interceptions for a team that went 9-2 and won the Liberty Bowl. He also was a reserve quarterback in addition to playing in the secondary.
He completed his bachelor's degree in 1963 and stayed in Corvallis to work on his master's degree and help coach the OSU freshman team. After completing his master's, Brooks became an assistant coach in 1964 at Norte Del Rio High School in Sacramento, Calif.
In 1965, he returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach. He guided the defensive ends and later the defensive line for a total of five seasons. During that span, OSU had two final rankings in the nation's top 15, finished second in the Pac-8, and Brooks coached All-Americans Jess Lewis and Jon Sandstrom.
Brooks rejoined Prothro in 1970 as linebackers coach at UCLA, then moved with Prothro to the NFL's Los Angeles Rams in 1971-72 as special teams and fundamentals coach. Brooks returned to Oregon State as defensive coordinator in 1973, then went back to the NFL in 1974-75 as defensive backs and special teams coach for the San Francisco 49ers. He coached linebackers at UCLA in 1976, helping the Bruins to a top-20 final ranking, before accepting the head coaching position at Oregon shortly after the season.
Brooks met his wife, Karen, when he coached her powder-puff football team when they were students at Oregon State. They have four adult children--daughters Kasey and Kerri and sons Denny and Brady--and five grandchildren.
When not with football or his family, Brooks is an avid fisherman and also enjoys golf.
The Brooks File
What They've Written About Rich Brooks ...
"... the school's startling success in football is all about Brooks."
"Brooks can flat-out coach."
"Rich Brooks took over a program on life support and made it relevant again."
"OK, we're taking nominations for the most underrated coach in the SEC the last few seasons. Rich Brooks gets my vote ..."
"Brooks has consistently comported himself with honor in how he's dealt with the players and assistant coaches who have entrusted their futures to him. Brooks hasn't put his own fate ahead of the long-term best interests of his players."
"With Brooks, the phrase `built to last' is always right there, just below the surface. It describes who he is and what he believes in."
"He's not a gimmick guy. He's a balance guy. Let's run it. Let's throw it. Better yet, when the opportunity arises, let's go for the throat. Let's throw it down the field."
"For the class he has shown under criticism, and for the grace he has shown in victory, Kentucky has no finer sportsman this year than Rich Brooks ... [Brooks has] restored a sense of pride, credibility and respect."