Brooks' class, grace will be missed

Rich Brooks said following Kentucky’s 21-13 loss to Clemson on Sunday night in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl that he’s “80 percent” sure that he won’t be back next season as the Wildcats’ coach.

He wants to take a week or so to be sure.

I wasn’t surprised to hear the news because I knew the 68-year-old Brooks was pretty close to saying "so long" to a fine coaching career that goes all the way back to 1963 when he was an assistant freshman coach at Oregon State.

But I was saddened.

College football (college sports, for that matter) needs more people like Rich Brooks.

He’s an old-school guy who treats people the way they deserve to be treated. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, not afraid to step on toes if he thinks it’s justified and not afraid to stick up for his football team.

But everything he does, he does with class and grace.

In this era of rock-star coaches, it’s never been about Brooks. He doesn’t mug for the cameras or seek the spotlight. He just coaches, recruits, develops young men and does it in such a way that he commands the respect of all of his peers.

Don’t be misled, though. Brooks is a funny guy. He’s also one of the wittiest coaches in the SEC. It’s a dry wit and usually pretty direct.

But the thing that’s so refreshing about Brooks is that he’s the same way all the time, and that’s whether there’s a bank of cameras on him or not a camera anywhere in sight. He'll answer your questions when he wins, and he'll answer them when he loses. And almost always, he has a keen perspective on things.

What he’s done for the Kentucky program speaks for itself. The Wildcats obviously didn’t play their best game against Clemson. But go back and look at where this program was when Brooks arrived -- with the NCAA sanctions and losing seasons becoming the norm -- and look at where it is right now.

Brooks changed the defeatist attitude that had permeated football at Kentucky. He improved the depth. He improved the talent level, particularly on defense.

Sure, he would have liked to have won more SEC games, but the Wildcats had some epic wins on his watch -- the triple-overtime thriller over LSU in 2007 and the road wins at Auburn and Georgia this season.

Nobody on this Kentucky team was even born the last time Kentucky won in those locales.

There were also the three straight bowl victories prior to the loss to Clemson in Nashville.

Brooks’ greatest accomplishment, though, was the way he elevated expectations at a place where basketball has been and always will be king.

A lot of people wondered what Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart was doing when he announced Brooks as his coach in 2003. But Brooks proved to be just the man for the job, one they weren’t exactly lining up for around the country at the time.

Give Barnhart credit, too, for sticking by Brooks through some of the lean years. It paid off because Kentucky football has rarely been in better shape now that Joker Phillips gets set to move into the lead role.

How many games Phillips wins and loses remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure: He has a definitive road map on how to build and maintain a football program … and do it with class.