Rich Brooks: The Man Who Saved Two Football Programs

Chris NelsonContributor IINovember 22, 2009

ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 21:  Head coach Rich Brooks of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates after their 34-27 win over the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on November 21, 2009 in Athens, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Some people are not aware of what Rich Brooks has done for the football programs at Oregon and Kentucky.  Sure, he faced much criticism from fans of both schools, but there is no question that Rich built the foundation for Oregon's recent success.  It's also apparent that he has restored pride into Kentucky football.

Let's start with Brooks's tenure at The University of Oregon.  Rich Brooks became the head coach of Oregon going into the 1977 season.  Before Rich got the job the Ducks had only been to 6 bowl games in their history.  During his first 7 years at Oregon, Rich only won 24 games, but the Ducks dominated in state rival Oregon State and had back to back winning seasons in 1979 and 1980. This allowed Rich to keep his job.  From 1984 to 1988 Oregon had 2 winning seasons and boasted a .500 winning percentage, the program was starting to turn around.  Then, the success finally came.  Brooks's patience in turning around the program paid off, and Oregon had back to back 8-4 seasons and played in the post season both years. The next three years were rough, as Oregon went 14-22, but Brooks finally did something no one else at Oregon had ever done.  In 1994 he led Oregon to a 9-4 record, and their first ever outright conference title.  The Ducks would lose the Rose Bowl to undefeated Penn State, but they finished the season ranked 11th in the AP poll.  He received the Paul "Bear" Bryant coach of the year award because of this performance.

Brooks left to go coach in the NFL, but he set the way for his offensive coordinator Mike Belloti to continue molding Oregon into the National power we know today. Brooks coached in the NFL as a head coach and a defensive coordinator for a few years.  Then after a break from coaching he took his current position as the head coach at Kentucky.  Brooks took over a program recovering from NCAA sanctions and only 5 winning seasons since 1980.  Brooks's first three season brought a total record of 9-25. Members of the Kentucky fan base began to doubt if he was the right man for the job, nut Rich had slowly been bringing in the talent Kentucky needed to compete in the SEC.  In 2006 the Cats started 3-4, and a 49-0 loss to LSU had Kentucky at their lowest point under Brooks.  Rich felt if he didn't win his next game he might not coach the rest of the season.  He won it, and followed it up with a 24 to 20 upset win over Georgia.  Kentucky only lost 1 more game all season a 17 to 12 loss at Tennessee.  The Wildcats finished 8-5 with a win over Clemson in the Music City Bowl.

Rich had proven he was the right man for the job.  In 2007, Kentucky upset #9 Louisville in their 3rd game of the season, and ran their start up to 5-0.  They were ranked 8th in the country, but suffered a 38-23 loss to #6 South Carolina in Columbia. It didn't phase Rich and his team one bit.  They responded with a 43-37 upset of #1 LSU. The Wildcats would cool off towards the end of the season, but they once again went 8-5 and won the Music City Bowl.

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Last year, Kentucky jumped out to a 4-0 start before falling 3 points short of #2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa.  It was clear Kentucky wasn't going anywhere.  The Wildcats finished the regular season 6-6.  They ended strong, beating ECU in the Liberty Bowl, making Rich Brooks the only coach in Kentucky history to lead the Wildcats to 3 straight bowl victories, something even Paul "Bear" Bryant failed to accomplish while coaching in Lexington.

This season may be Rich's best season in Lexington.  He has taken an injury hampered team to a 7-4 record with upset victories in both Auburn and Athens.  With a 4th straight winning season already clinched there is no doubt Rich is one of the best turnaround coaches ever. I see bright things in this team's future.  With a coach like Brooks I know this program is in great hands, and don't be surprised if you see the Wildcats end that pesky losing streak to Tennessee on Saturday.