Vaught's Views: Next two games crucial to Brooks' future

September 12, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

Logic dictates that any new coach of a major college program has to have time to implement his system and put his stamp on the program.

That's why it would seem to be way too early to read too much into Rich Brooks' future at Kentucky after just two games - a 40-24 loss to Louisville and 37-6 win over Murray State. However, the next two games may well determine what success Brooks has the next few years.

The Wildcats play at Alabama on Saturday before going to Indiana Sept. 20.

If Kentucky plays well at Alabama, even if it doesn't win, then goes to Indiana and wins, players likely will start to believe in Brooks' system even more. More wins should be forthcoming this season, recruits will see an enthusiastic, competitive team and the program should be able to survive 2004 and 2005 when the impact of recent NCAA sanctions could be felt even more.


If Kentucky loses in a big way at Alabama and then goes to Indiana and does not win, then players may lose all faith in the new coaching staff. The lack of emotion that plagued UK in its first two wins could become an epidemic, the system could fail miserably and recruits might begin to wonder why they should sign with a team in disarray.

Brooks and his staff obviously know football. They've been successful for too long at too many places in both the college and professional ranks to believe that they won't formulate a plan that will work for Kentucky.

But are they sacrificing the 2003 season for the long-term plan? Is what works for the long-term plan really is what is best for seniors like quarterback Jared Lorenzen, wide receiver Derek Abney, defensive tackle Jeremy Caudill and offensive tackle Antonio Hall this year?

Kentucky was 7-5 last year, just one season after it had gone 2-9 in Guy Morriss' first year. Then Morriss left for Baylor, a coaching search ensued and Brooks finally was hired to fill the rising expectations UK fans had for this year.

Expectations may have been unfair

Of course, those expectations may have been unfair. Kentucky did have the best runner (Artose Pinner), defensive lineman (Dewayne Robertson), punter (Glenn Pakulak) and return specialist (Abney) in the SEC last year. Lorenzen also had to be one of the top three quarterbacks, if not the best at times, and there was not a better clutch receiver than Aaron Boone.

Now Pinner, Robertson, Pakulak and Boone are gone. So is tight end Chase Harp, perhaps the most underrated member of last year's team. If that wasn't enough, Abney started the season with a tender hamstring and Lorenzen had to adjust to his third coaching staff in four years.

Maybe it was unrealistic to think this could be a bowl team considering the coaching change and personnel losses. However, even Brooks acknowledged that the goal was to get the seniors to the bowl they deserved to play in last year but couldn't because of transgressions by former UK recruiting coordinator Claude Bassett.

Still, the season is not lost yet. Kentucky practiced some four-wide receiver sets this week, a look it has not used in a game.

Perhaps offensive coordinator Ron Hudson will let Lorenzen "sling the ball around" as Brooks said he would when he was hired. Perhaps the 3-4 defense that Mike Archer has installed will stop Alabama. Perhaps Abney will have one of those special games like he did in 2002 when he was unstoppable at times on returns.

The Wildcats need an infusion of enthusiasm and good luck this week to help their play. They need a solid effort to help their confidence and belief in the system or else Saturday could be the start of much bigger problems for Brooks and the UK football program.

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