UK Notebook: Barnhart confident that Brooks right hire for UK

September 16, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky is not off to the start that athletics director Mitch Barnhart hoped for when he hired Rich Brooks as the new head coach.

Still, Brooks and his staff confirmed to Barnhart that the faith he has in them is well placed during Saturday's 27-17 loss at Alabama.

A National Football League scout told Barnhart before the game that his team had nine Alabama juniors and seniors projected as fourth-round draft picks or higher.

"I asked how many we had and he told me not nearly that many," Barnhart said. "He said there's a talent gap between the two teams and wanted me to understand what we were up against.


"When I look at what our staff did Saturday night, there's no question in my mind that we made the right hire. That coaching staff did a remarkable job of keeping us in the game. They made some outstanding adjustments and put us in position to have a chance to win the game in the third and fourth quarters. A couple of things didn't go our way, but we were in position to have a chance to win."

Barnhart was here Monday night to speak at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes fund-raising banquet at the Centenary United Methodist Church Christian Life Center. Barnhart shared his faith for about 30 minutes and then made it clear he had the same faith in Brooks despite UK's 1-2 start.

"I think Rich is the kind of stubborn, ornery, tough-minded competitor that you have to have to win in this league. You can't win in this league without that mentality," Barnhart said. "He's a good recruiter. He's assembled a great staff. I think people are quick to jump to a two- or three-game conclusion and that's not fair.

"We are in this for the long haul. We've got probation and sanctions to work though. He understands what it takes to build from the ground up. We have some solid players now, but we've got to grow for the future with a firm foundation of recruits. We've got to be good at who we bring in."

Barnhart also noted that UK suffered substantial losses off last year's team from running back Artose Pinner to defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson to punter Glenn Pakulak to receiver Aaron Boone to six other defensive starters.

"We also lost tight end Chase Harp, and we are seeing what a huge loss that was," Barnhart said. "He was such a good blocker and was a coach's son who just understood how to play the game.

"I think we are working to get a system in place, and the guys are beginning to understand their roles. There is a gap in team speed and overall athletic ability in terms of where an Alabama is and where we are. We've got to shore that up."

Barnhart pointed out that UK is averaging 26 points per game. That's more than any first-year Kentucky coach has averaged except for the 1997 season when Hal Mumme's team averaged 31.6 points per game. Kentucky's defense is yielding 24.3 points per game, down from last year's 25.1 That's the best showing for a first-year defense since Fran Curci's initial season in 1973.

"Is the progress where we want it to be? No. Is it getting there? Yes," Barnhart said. "It has taken the newcomers time to pick up things, and we've had a difficult schedule. But we are getting there."

Barnhart said there's no way Brooks will sacrifice this season to build for the 2004 or 2005 season.

"If you could listen to him in the locker room and the way he addresses all the seniors, you would know he wants a winning season for them and that he'll go to war for them," Barnhart said. "We just have to go to battle with who we've got, and hopefully by the end of the year we'll have the opportunity to get the seniors to a bowl game they deserve."

Barnhart, like Brooks, was visibly upset with the officiating in Saturday's loss. He spent Monday talking to the Southeastern Conference commissioner and supervisor of officials.

"We had some nice conversations today about our concerns. I can't say much more than that," Barnhart said. "There were some things we wanted to address, and we did. We have asked the SEC to look at some things because there were some legitimate concerns."

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