1994 was the eighteenth year of Rich Brooks tenure as the head coach of the Oregon Ducks, and he took the Ducks to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1960s. This was a joyous event in Eugene, because it meant two things; the Ducks had arrived, and Rich Brooks would be leaving. Much celebration accompanied his decision to accept a job with the St. Louis Rams that off-season, because the good people of Eugene were, frankly, fed up with fullback traps on 3rd and 12 from the opponent’s 18 yard line. Brooks had, slowly and painstakingly, rebuilt Oregon football; it was time for him to go. He was replaced by Mike Bellotti, and the Ducks have become an A-list football program, even if their uniform choices have become… questionable.
When I arrived in Lexington two and a half years ago, I was struck by a sense of deja vu. Once again, Rich Brooks was head coach of the football team, and once again he was the target of wide disdain. At Patterson, the joke went “Why is Rich Brooks the administration’s best choice for heading the Department of Homeland Security? Because he can clear out a 45000 seat stadium in 10 minutes flat.” That tells you more about Patterson than about Brooks, but you get the point. At the beginning of last year, Brooks was almost unanimously believed to be a lame duck (so to speak). And then, contrary to all expectation, the Wildcats began to win.
Kentucky went 8-5 last year, winning their first bowl game since 1984. As you may have heard, they’ve been relatively successful this year, and are currently ranked 7th in the BCS standings; 3 spots ahead of Bellotti’s Ducks. I think it’s fair to say that Brooks deserves a reconsideration. He has coached two major college programs in his career, and he has essentially brought both of them back from the dead. It took longer with the Ducks, but that probably has more to do with structural changes in college football than with Brooks himself. Assuming that Kentucky doesn’t completely collapse the rest of the way, I’d be surprised if Brooks doesn’t win the Bear Bryant award for the second time. We’ll see what happens after this year; I’m guessing that Brooks won’t make the same leap that he made in 1994, but you never know. If he does, it’ll be interesting to see whether Kentucky can find its own Mike Bellotti. But for now, I’d just like to say that Rich Brooks is a damn fine college football coach.