Posted on Fri, Nov. 11, 2005
Watch out, Rich Brooks — I want your job
By Mark Story
HERALD-LEADER SPORTS COLUMNIST
After spending the bulk of my professional life trying to master the craft of writing, it is with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that I announce a major change in direction.
From this point forward, my every waking hour will be devoted to a singular quest.
Becoming the next head football coach at the University of Kentucky.
WHAT A GREAT JOB!
In an era of globalization and cut-throat pressure to produce, is there any other position -- outside of, oh, the British Royal Family -- where one can command a high-six-figure income yet bear no apparent accountability to the bottom line?
I want Rich Brooks' job.
There has been a school of thought that Mitch Barnhart's past actions have shown a bit of a tin ear for the customs and traditions of Kentucky.
Not in this case. In the decision to bring back Brooks, his 8-23 overall record and no signature victories for a fourth year as UK coach, the Kentucky athletics director has shown he fully grasps the essence of the modern UK football experience.
It was the summer of 1992 when C.M. Newton first extended Bill Curry's contract to coach football at Kentucky.
At the time, Curry's UK record was 7-15.
It was January of 1994 when Newton again extended Curry's pact for two years.
At that time, Curry's UK mark was 17-28.
It was Nov. 18, 1995, when Newton drove to Commonwealth Stadium fully intending, I believe, to pull the plug on Curry -- who was just weeks removed from a genuinely remarkable coaching mark: His fifth straight loss to Vanderbilt.
But that day, behind the brilliance of Moe Williams and the grit of Billy Jack Haskins, Kentucky built a 24-9 second-half lead on heavily favored Tennessee.
A young quarterback named Peyton Manning -- anyone know whatever became of him? -- ultimately rallied the Vols to a 34-31 win.
Nevertheless, the ensuing Monday Newton announced that what he had seen persuaded him to bring Curry and his 22-45 record back for a seventh year.
Now, I ask you, in what other position in all of sports can a coach save his job by blowing a 24-9 lead in the second half?
So I want that job.
Truth is, I salivate to hold a position where, like Hal Mumme, you can go 20-26, see your right-hand man implicated in some three dozen NCAA violations -- yet still get a cool $1 million just to walk away.
I am absolutely the man for a job where, no matter how bad the product gets, the patrons keep coming back. Where the customers willingly pay ever- escalating prices and, in doing so, remove all economic incentive for the product to improve.
I want that job.
To his credit, Barnhart has not been doling out contract extensions to Curr, uhm, to Brooks as freely as circus clowns pass out balloons.
Yes, there is a "fairness" rationale to be made for UK's announced intention to keep Rich Brooks.
As the coach so frequently reminds us, he did take the Kentucky job in the throes of an NCAA probation. When he did, it's true that a lot of other coaches did not want the position.
And this season Kentucky has been so crippled by injuries to vital players that it has been tough to impossible to fairly gauge the direction of Brooks' program.
I'd feel a lot better about his return, however, if Brooks had shown at any point in the past three years either the ability to motivate his teams to overachievement or to strategize so effectively that he negated other teams' talent advantages.
Without the ability to do one or the other, a football coach has no chance to succeed at Kentucky.
On a gut level, the whole Rich Brooks era at UK has carried that "it's-just-not-the-right-fit" feeling. It started on the day the coach was hired with the P.R. fiasco of Barnhart not telling Lee Todd about Oregon's NCAA violations under Brooks.
Even allowing for UK's probation, the coach has produced nothing on the field to change that "not-a-good-fit" perception.
Of Brooks' eight wins at Kentucky, two came against 1-AA teams. In 2003, he beat three 1-A teams (Ohio, Mississippi State and Indiana) that each finished 2-10.
Last year, he beat 2-9 Vanderbilt and 3-8 Indiana. This year, his sole major-college victim is 2-7 Mississippi State.
Fact is, in 2005 Kentucky is two plays -- Rafael Little's kickoff-return touchdown against Idaho State and Mississippi State's fumbled quarterback exchange at the Kentucky 3 -- from being 0-8.
Yet, in spite of it all, Brooks is now apparently assured of at least one more year on the sideline where his tenure has yielded exactly nothing so far to suggest that a brighter day is coming.
That's on top of the two more years of $700,000-plus he is guaranteed regardless of his job performance.
You know, wonder of wonders, there still are people out there who claim being head football coach at Kentucky is a bad job.
I want that job.