SIMPSONVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Rich Brooks pondered the question for a
moment, then laughed.
"Who would have ever expected that I'd be one of the most
tenured guys in the SEC?" the Kentucky coach said. "Wow, that's a
One that seemed improbable three years ago, when Brooks
staggered into his fourth season with a 9-25 record as he tried to
rebuild the NCAA probation-ravaged program.
Three years - and three straight bowl wins later - Brooks is
hoping to cement his legacy at Kentucky before stepping aside for
eventual successor Joker Phillips.
Brooks stuck to his plan during the lean times with the support
of athletic director Mitch Barnhart, who held firm even as the
program struggled to right itself.
"There was ample criticism and second-guessing going on,"
Brooks said. "Certainly I think it's proven to be a prudent course
that we were able to implement a plan and given the time to bring
it close to fruition."
It's a lesson in perseverance not lost at Louisville, where
coach Steve Kragthorpe is just 11-13 since taking over for Bobby
Petrino. Kragthrope's resume also includes a pair of losses to the
Kragthorpe and athletic director Tom Jurich have preached
patience as they continue to overhaul the program. The Cardinals
have undergone a major housecleaning in Kragthorpe's two years and
there's a sense the foundation is still being put in place.
The third-year coach said during an appearance with Brooks to
promote this year's Governor's Cup that he feels no additional
pressure despite his 0-fer against Kentucky.
"The fact that we haven't won the last two years, I don't know
if that adds anything from our side other than we know that it's an
important game and we want to win it," Kragthorpe said.
Yet Jurich doesn't think it's a game the Cardinals have to win
to show signs of progress after last year's 5-7 finish, the first
losing season in more than a decade.
"Everybody wants to be successful tomorrow, I do, I'm very
impatient myself," Jurich said. "You just want to work very hard
and stay the course. We can't reinvent the wheel. We only get 25
scholarships a year. We're going to continue to recruit. We recruit
character and try and get some quality kids in here and hope for
Winning the Governor's Cup can make the job easier.
Brooks - who needed five tries to beat the Cardinals - admits
his offseasons are a little bit better after finally breaking
through against Louisville.
And while Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari raised some
eyebrows last week by suggesting the annual showdown against
Louisville doesn't really matter, Brooks thinks otherwise.
"This is a huge game," he said. "We're in different leagues
(but) we're 1½ hours apart and compete against each other 12 months
a year. It's recruiting, it's the whole thing."
Just not everything, at least to Brooks.
Sure, he's pleased with how far the Wildcats have come but he
knows plenty of work lies ahead. Brooks likened competing in the
Southeastern Conference to scaling Mount Everest and thinks the
view from the top is still a ways off.
"We've established a base camp, but we're not at the summit,"
he said. "I'd say we're halfway to the summit. We're in a better
position to launch for the summit than we were 3-4 years ago. The
guys on this team understand that."
They'll need to if the Wildcats want to survive a schedule that
includes games against Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Auburn.
Those games, however, all come after Sept. 19, when the
Cardinals visit Commonwealth Stadium. Kentucky used a thrilling
comeback win over Louisville there two years ago to launch a 7-5
season that later featured an upset over then-No. 1 LSU.
Each team will be looking for a similar springboard this year.
For Brooks it could be the start of a swan song. The 69-year-old
said he has less than four seasons left before handing things over
to Phillips, but stressed he's in no hurry to get to the door.
"There's no timetable set," he said. "I'm as excited right
now as I've ever been. We have a lot of work to be done. When the
time comes, the time will come and everybody will know."