Vaught's Views: Brooks must prove he's right coach for UK

October 06, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

The last time Alabama came to Commonwealth Stadium turned out to be a turning point for then-coach Hal Mumme's Wildcats.

Kentucky beat a so-so Alabama team 40-34 in overtime in 1997. However, UK fans were so starved for excitement and any victory over a name team after seven straight years without a winning season, the goal posts came down.

That won't happen Saturday even if the Wildcats do beat Alabama.

First, this is another so-so Alabama team. Second, there simply is not enough excitement about Kentucky football today to prompt fans to storm the field - especially after the LSU fiasco two years ago.

Second-year Kentucky coach Rich Brooks desperately needs something good to happen for his team to stem the tide of swelling disappointment over the job he's doing.


Brooks' supporters can note that NCAA probation and sanctions have wiped out UK's talent base and made it impossible for the Cats to be competitive this year. They can note that another coaching change, which would result in UK's fourth head coach in six years, would set the program back even more.

Brooks' critics can note that Kentucky has lost seven of its last eight games, ranks last in the Southeastern Conference in total defense and has scored fewer touchdowns than any other SEC team this year.

NCAA probation is designed to hurt programs. It takes away scholarships and limits recruiting. Even when probation ends, it can take a program years to recover.

Kentucky was picked to finish last in the SEC Eastern Division by most college football analysts this season. The Cats had only one player - defensive end Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns - deemed worthy of preseason all-SEC honors. The Cats also faced their usual difficult schedule thanks to eight conference games and the opener with Louisville.

What is most troubling is not found on stat sheet

But what is most troubling about UK's problems this season goes far beyond the numbers on the scoreboard or statistics sheet.

It starts with Brooks admitting he's having trouble motivating his team and is searching for ways to inspire his team. It continues with coaching mistakes like not having decided whether to go for a two-point conversion after UK scored its last touchdown in Saturday's 28-16 loss to Ohio.

What's even worse, though, is the team's uninspired play.

"We didn't play hard at all," Kentucky freshman safety Wesley Woodyard said as he looked back on the loss to Ohio. "We just came out and stepped on the field. You can't do that in any football game, or any sport. You have to play hard every snap and hit a guy in the mouth every play. But we didn't do that."

As Brooks noted, any team can "lay an egg" in one game. However, Kentucky has done it twice in the last seven games. Remember the lackluster 28-17 loss at Vanderbilt last year that resulted in Vandy fans tearing down the goalposts?

The Cats are 1-7 in their last eight games starting with the seven-overtime loss to Arkansas. In the six losses since that one, UK has averaged 8.3 points per game. Kentucky scored more points against Indiana - 51 -in its one win in the last eight games than it did in its last six losses to Vanderbilt, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisville, Florida and Ohio.

The offense seems unimaginative as well as unproductive. But the defense has regressed, too, and has become more prone to giving up big plays than it did last year.

A lack of talent, poor coaching or both?

But is all of this due to a lack of talent, poor coaching or a combination of both? That's the question without a clear answer today, but one that UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart has to contemplate, especially if the Wildcats continue to play poorly and more and more fans become disenchanted with the program.

What is clear though is that Brooks, even if Kentucky is playing nine true freshmen and relying on several more redshirt freshmen, must find a way to pump life into his team and convince players, and fans, that he has a workable plan that will enhance UK's football fortunes. If Brooks and his staff can't do that, then Barnhart is going to have to think long and hard about next year.

Certainly four games into a coach's second season is way too early to make a change at the top again. However, it's not too early to expect far better play than UK showed at Vanderbilt in November or against Ohio last week and that's why Brooks and his staff may well be out of second chances.

From here on, UK has to show some improvement to prove that Brooks is the right person to be leading the Kentucky program.

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