Vaught's Views: Players will remember Brooks' loyalty

October 20, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

Sometimes it's the subtle things that define a coach's career. Rather than a signature win or devastating loss, it can be what might seem to be a much more insignificant event that determines whether a coach succeeds or fails.

Kentucky football coach Rich Brooks may have had his moment Saturday during Kentucky's 35-14 victory over Ohio University.

He had made the obvious move late in the first quarter when he benched quarterback Jared Lorenzen after he lost his second fumble of the game. Backup Shane Boyd had pumped life into the offense, just as he had done the previous game at South Carolina when he replaced Lorenzen, and led UK to a 21-7 lead before Ohio scored with 11 minutes, 54 seconds left to cut the deficit to 21-14.

The easy move, maybe even the prudent move, was to send Boyd back into the game to secure the win. Brooks had other ideas. He went back to Lorenzen, UK's all-time passing leader, and watched him reward that confidence by throwing for two touchdowns on consecutive possessions.


"The guys welcomed me back in the huddle, and I felt right back at home," said Lorenzen.

Still, Lorenzen was as surprised as everyone else in Commonwealth Stadium that Brooks went back to him.

"It would have been real easy not to put me back in there," Lorenzen said. "I have said from day one that I love coach Brooks. He's the best coach I've had since I've been here. Obviously, some things are not going the greatest for us, but he's a great man and is a very loyal man.

"I talk to him more now than I ever have any other coach. If I have problems - social, school or football - I talk to him and he understands completely."

Evidently he does more than understand because Brooks acted more like a 61-year-old grandfather than a veteran NFL and college coach by sticking with Lorenzen. He was not an overly popular hire, and his offense has often been criticized as unproductive and unimaginative even though the numbers indicate UK's offense has been far better than most want to believe.

By keeping Lorenzen on the bench and turning to Boyd, Brooks could have possibly deflected the criticism from his offensive system to Lorenzen's play. Instead, he chose to stick with his senior just as he did after his costly fourth-quarter interception that cost UK a win over Florida.

Not only did Brooks put him back in, but he's going to start him Saturday against Mississippi State when the Cats try to even their record at 4-4 and revive their bowl hopes.

Brooks said it does not make a "lot of sense" not to play Lorenzen, based on his success this year as well as in his career.

"I'm not going to give up on the guy who is the all-time passing leader at Kentucky," Brooks said.

Brooks noted Sunday that not only was Lorenzen trying to come back from the concussion that knocked him out of the South Carolina game, but that he may have had other distractions last week.

"There's a lot going on in Jared's life," Brooks said. "It was a very tough week for him because of the concussion and other issues he was dealing with. He's doing the best he can for us."

Players won't forget the loyalty Brooks showed for Lorenzen. Some may start to more easily believe that he does care for them as much as he says and that he's as committed to building a winning program at Kentucky as he says.

Letting Boyd start the next five games could make UK a better team next year. But it also may take away from UK's effectiveness this year.

Brooks plans to use the best both has to offer. Lorenzen will start, use his talented left arm to make plays and hopefully avoid some of the mistakes he may have made lately from trying too hard. Boyd will play more at quarterback, give defenses a different look with his running and still gain valuable experience for next year.

"I am not saying Shane can't pass, but he has amazing feet," Lorenzen said. "Hopefully, we will stick with a system that lets us both excel. He's an amazing runner and athlete. I think I throw pretty well. We can make this offense very good if we both just do the things we do best."

True, but what may make this team even better the last five games is a feeling that Brooks does care. He suspended linebacker Deion Holts for disciplinary reasons for this game rather than bend his rules, something players respect. He got the ball more to receiver Derek Abney, something he had been promising to do. He played forgotten receiver Tommy Cook more, and Cook responded with a needed big play.

But most importantly, he stuck with a veteran who he could easily have dumped and made the scapegoat for UK's failures this season. That doesn't guarantee future success, but it sure makes it easier for players to believe in the coach who was loyal to them and more often than not, that does lead to better times.

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