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July 26, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Our final coach of the day is Kentucky head coach Rich Brooks.
COACH BROOKS: You all have been in here a lot longer than I have. You got to be tired now, worn out doing your job (smiling).
I'll just open by saying that I'm happy to be here again. There was some question last year whether I would be. I'm hoping that I'll be back here next year.
To do that, we have to win more games obviously. But the good news is, we're in better position than at any time since I've been there to do that. We have about 82 to 83 scholarship players. I started with 68 my first year. We've been building it up ever since.
We're still going to be a little inexperienced. We have 11 seniors and about five of them might be starters. I think there's six listed on the pre-season depth chart. That could be a little smaller. It's likely to be smaller as we go into the season.
We have more speed, more depth, I think more play-makers than any year since I've been there. Now we have to go out and prove it on the field and win games.
I'll just open it up to questions.
Q. Do you have to have a conversation with your players when people raise the issue about your situation to tell them, Hey, don't listen to that? Do you actually have to have that conversation?
COACH BROOKS: I definitely had to have that conversation last year, yes. I mean, I think unfortunately in today's world, and it is the world we live in, that players are put in situations they shouldn't be put in, particularly college players. I mean, I've been in the NFL. I know what that's all about. That's a different story. But when guys are in there trying to get an education, do the best they can for the university, they shouldn't be put in a position to every week be answering questions about the job security of their coach.
Sometimes those situations get out of control. In our situation a little bit last year, I think it did.
By and large, I think the players handled it as well as they could. I've always felt that when it becomes that obvious, I need to say something. Basically what I told them is, Don't worry about me, just worry about yourself. I'm going to be fine whether I'm here or not here, so let's move forward, go out there and see if we can get this thing going in the direction that we all know that it can go.
Q. The way defenses play in this league now, if you don't have balance, is there any chance for your offense to succeed?
COACH BROOKS: That's a loaded question, huh? I'm trying to make a little humor here. Obviously I'm not doing very well at it (smiling). I know a lot of people would say the same thing, I'm not very funny. I just try to be once in a while.
I assume that's referring to the style of offense being played at Florida last year.
I think offenses in this league have to be physical whether you're throwing the ball or running it. I think it's the best defensive conference in the country. There's more great defensive players in this league than I think any league in the country.
So, yes, you have to be physical. But you can be a physical passing team and you can be a physical running team. The tough thing is to be physical when you're trying to do both. There's a fine line as a coach, I think, when you go through about trying to do your offense about whether you're throwing too much, when you got to run it, you can't run it or whether you're running it too much, and when you got to throw it, can you throw it. That's a fence I think all coaches walk.
Certainly you look at the defensive leaders in the nation, you look at the SEC, you're going to see a pretty good representative group of teams that are in the national rankings in total defense in the SEC.
Conversely, that's one of the areas we have to step up if we expect to win in this league. Our defense has been too porous the last several years.
Q. Could you tell us how big Rafael Little's role is going to be this year, what all he's going to do for you?
COACH BROOKS: Well, if I'd have said how big his role would have been last year, would anybody have believed it in this room? I don't think so.
Rafael is a special player. You got to remember this: he was playing behind Tony Dixon as a true freshman. Tony got hurt last year in fall camp and missed the entire year. Tony is back, plus we have Alfonso Smith, a redshirt freshman, who is faster than Rafael and Tony, and I think had a very good spring.
Rafael obviously is going to have a huge role for our team. Hopefully he won't be our team, which is kind of what he was last year on offense. He was our team. 42 catches, split out sometimes, sometimes coming out of the backfield, over a thousand yards rushing with almost a game and a half at the end of the season when he was hurting and couldn't do much. He led the league in punt returns. I think would have led the league in kickoff returns. He had two, I think, for a 44-yard average, something like that, one touchdown. But I chose to give him a little bit of rest on the kickoff return.
He's, I think, a very special player. I think most guys that were fifth in the nation in total offense and led their league in punt returns would have maybe found a way to be on the first team in one of those areas, either on offense or punt returning as a returner. That shows you how strong our lead is, because he's second team in both.
Q. Would you think he's going to do that this year?
COACH BROOKS: I'm going to have a hard time not letting him put his hands on the ball. I had a couple moments last year on the sideline where I just stood there and said, "Wow, this guy is special."
Q. You alluded to your defense. That's kind of been, I guess, a recurring theme, is how can Kentucky get better on defense. What do you see that gives you hope this year?
COACH BROOKS: Well, recruiting is one way you get better on defense. I think we've recruited better in the last couple of years. I think we have clearly more SEC-type looking players in our front seven. The tough thing for us this year is we've got to find two new starting corners. In this league, if you don't hold up at corner, you're going to have a hard time holding up anywhere else.
But I am very confident that our run defense will come out of the Dark Ages and actually be somewhere below 117 or 102, whatever the heck we've been ranked the last couple years. I think that's the key for us defensively, is that we've got to be able not let other teams come in and just run the ball down our throat.
Q. You've run sprint offenses, running offenses, drop-back offenses. Is it generally true or not that lines that block better for the run game than the passing game are physically tougher?
COACH BROOKS: Well, you know, I used to think that was true until I spent a few years in the NFL. I saw some pretty physical pass blockers in that league. You see some in this league, as well.
But just by the nature of what they're doing, that would be more true than not, that the more physical offensive lineman is usually going to be a guy who is doing it on the running game. If you talk to a lot of linemen, they really like that more because they're not put on an island as much. They don't stand out as much if somebody breaks through and gets pressure on a quarterback or sacks a quarterback. I mean, all the fans now are knowledgeable enough. They know whose guy that is for the most part.
They really love, most linemen, trying to run the football.
Q. Given the depth you have now, is this the most confidence you have going into a season at Kentucky? Also, do you feel like showing improvement this year will help you guys come back next year, or is it a certain number of wins you think you have to have this year?
COACH BROOKS: I think, number one, yes, I have more confidence going into this season because we're better. I know we're better. Now we have to go prove it to everybody else, including some of the teams that are going to solidify. I think a lot of people that know football can see improvement, but most fans believe improvement happens in the win column.
Do I think we have to show that? Absolutely, we have to show that to move forward.
Q. You talked about defense. You've had a lot of injuries, playing a lot of young guys. How imperative is it for your defense to be better? What makes you feel good about the prospects of it moving up the charts a little bit this year?
COACH BROOKS: If you don't play defense in this league, you're not going to win very many games at all. I mean, bottom line. The first year we came in, we played better defense than we did the last two years because we had more guys left over that were still returning, more talent on that defensive team than the last two years. The last two years, we were very inexperienced. We started a lot of true freshmen. Now a lot of those freshmen are playing in the same system two years in a row. A lot of those underclassmen are more physical, they're more prepared physically to be better players in this league, and they have the experience of lining up and playing in this league. Yeah, I feel a lot better about our defense.
As I mentioned earlier, the key for our success will depend on whether we can hold up on the corners when people start throwing it down the field on us. If we can do that, we can get a safety in the box once in a while, we don't have to cover the corners all the time. But even having said that, we will be a better run-stopping team than we have been the last couple years. We just have better players up there doing it.
Q. One issue I understand Kentucky has dealt with is myspace.com and facebook.com, personal web pages. What did you tell your players about those sites and how tough is that to regulate the image of the university when you have players posting pictures, that sort of stuff?
COACH BROOKS: I think that's a problem that every parent has to deal with in today's society. Certainly every coach of any sport has to deal with it because it's interesting, I asked my team once, I said, What do you think? You're just sending this stuff to your friend, five or six buddies, somebody like that? I said, Anybody can go on there. Employers go on there now. They look at myspace.com when they're interviewing people coming out of college, getting background stuff on them.
What we've told them, and it's basically filtered down from the athletic director to every sport, that you have to be responsible for what's on your personal space on the computer pages. If it doesn't reflect kindly on our university, there will be consequences because of that.
Q. Is the football team going to draw any inspiration from the Kentucky baseball team? Head baseball coach named national coach of the year.
COACH BROOKS: Two of the most remarkable things I've seen in sport happened in baseball this year. One of them was our last-to-first in the SEC, which has been just a great baseball conference. Coach Cohen did an outstanding job of turning that program around. I think our players can look at that and say, doesn't make any difference what people think you are; you determine what you are, not somebody telling you what you are.
The other part of that, they were kind of upset a little bit in the regional, didn't advance, but my alma mater, unbelievable. Oregon State, another northern team, wins the College World Series. Goes through six elimination games and wins the College World Series with a lot of small-town Oregon kids starting for them. That just doesn't happen in major college athletics today.
If you can't get inspiration from Kentucky baseball and Oregon State baseball, you can't be inspired, there's something wrong with you.
Q. You talked about improved recruiting recently. You signed a lot of people out of Georgia and South Carolina the last few years. Can you talk about that? Is that a trend that's going to continue?
COACH BROOKS: I think I'm not supposed to talk about recruiting a lot, but I can talk in general. In general, the state of Georgia has a lot of talent. The state of South Carolina has a lot of talent. My daughter lives in Atlanta. We had a wedding down there at the end of June. It's only a five and a half hour drive to Lexington. A lot of good players down there. Georgia and Georgia Tech aren't going to take them all. We might as well get some of them. Certainly going to help us get better if we do. And it is helping us.
Q. What are the differences in dealing with the media, if any, from the NFL to college for coaches? As far as time constraints, the intensity of the questioning, that kind of thing?
COACH BROOKS: First let me say that I don't think the scrutiny by the media is as intense in some of the other leagues in college as it is in the SEC. I don't think that the interest in college football year-round in any league is as strong as it is in the SEC. I'm talking about talk radio, talking about recruiting, talking about Internet, talking about everything year-round that covers football in the SEC.
I think that's exciting. It also is a little bit of a burden sometimes. Obviously, you have to dispel rumors, you have to put down half truths or untruths as you try to march forward and build a program.
But by and large, the only thing that equals this in the NFL would be the Super Bowl, the media frenzy that goes around a Super Bowl, which I was fortunate enough to experience with the Atlanta Falcons.
Media day is big in some other conferences, but not the numbers that it is in this conference.
Q. What do you think about Internet message boards, the things fans post on there? Can they be a distraction to the team?
COACH BROOKS: Yeah, I think they can be. I hope some players are smart enough not to go in there and read 'em because all you're going to get is aggravated I think, for the most part. You got me going on something. I want to digress for a minute.
Media coverage today is driven in some regard by message boards, okay? Chat rooms and message boards. If you guys are going to do your job, you've got to know a little bit what some people -- the fans and everybody -- are saying in those things. You occasionally may go in and peek at 'em, see what the tenor or what the tone is, who do they want to get rid of, what makes them unhappy, then you come and ask a player or coach about it sometimes.
Is it a factor? Excuse me, but hell, yes, it's a factor. Really the most disappointing thing to me about message boards, and call-in shows, is that anybody can come in and write or say whatever they want, and there's really no ramifications whether they're right or wrong. I would like to think that the assembled people that I'm speaking to right now have enough intelligence and enough in their system that they won't let half truths go on more than being on some guy talking on a radio or saying it in a message board. Unfortunately, some of those things have gone further than that.
It is a problem. Absolutely it's a problem. You know what, it isn't going to go away. It's always going to be a problem. It may become a bigger problem.
Q. Would you talk about the complementary skills of your two quarterbacks, how you might utilize those guys? Also having a new quarterback coach.
COACH BROOKS: Well, I think, first of all, I'll address the last part of that. I'm very fortunate. I'm very excited to have Randy Sanders join our staff. He brings experience as a play-caller, as a coordinator, and obviously has coached some pretty good quarterbacks in his tenure at Tennessee.
I think that Curtis Pulley brings athleticism to the quarterback position. He ran a couple in against Florida in the second half. He can pull the ball down and make a bad play a good play with his feet. He's not quite as accurate on the deep throw as Woodson has been. Woodson, I think, for the first year as a full-time starter, handled himself very well throwing the football. What they both have to do is eliminate negative plays. Andre's problem was fumbling last year. He didn't secure the ball well enough in the pocket, then occasionally when he did run, he didn't secure the ball well enough.
Eliminate the negative plays, make more positive plays, and that will determine who's going to be the starter against Louisville. It will be determined probably after the first several weeks of fall camp.
Q. Last few years you've been here, you voiced your opinions about the 12-game permanent schedule and its ramifications. Now that it's here and doesn't seem like it's going to go away, what can you say about what you think we'll see three, four, five, ten years down the road?
COACH BROOKS: You mean 13? The good number 13 (smiling)?
I think it's here to stay. I think there is a necessity when you want to have a broad-based program -- let's talk about baseball at Kentucky. Look at what happened there. It happened because there was more money put into our sport. A coach came in and did a great job of putting it all together and doing it.
Would he have done it five years ago without the resources? Maybe not. Probably not. So it becomes important to have a broad-based program to give other athletes the same opportunity for success to have the football team play another game because that brings in a lot of money.
What we're talking about in that situation, like the SEC, I don't think there's many of those schools that are going to be playing that game on the road, because your home game is going to bring more money.
Having said that, think about our team last year when we had about 31 surgeries playing a 12th game, when we had a hard time getting the lineup to play the 11th game against Tennessee.
Is it fair to the athletes involved in football? No, I don't think it is. Is it a reality that we're going to be having for the future? Absolutely. The flipside is, for a team like ourselves, it gives us another opportunity to hopefully get that sixth win to qualify us for post-season play.
There's positives and negatives about the 12th game.
Q. Keenan Burton and Wesley Woodyard with you this year. When you decide on who you're going to bring to media day, what goes into that decision? What do you look for when you're making that decision of who you want to bring to represent your program each year when you come down here?
COACH BROOKS: Well, I look for people who conduct themselves in the manner that I believe represents the university well on and off the field. I think they're both outstanding football players or they wouldn't be here. But they're also outstanding people. They both have great leadership skills. As a father, you couldn't be unhappy if your daughter brought one of those young men into the house, you know, said she wanted to go forward with him, because they're the type of people that are going to be winners in life as well as winners on the football field - hopefully sooner than later on the football field.
Q. Could you talk about your concerns at wide receiver going into the start of practice?
COACH BROOKS: Well, it's an area that doesn't have a lot of proven players returning other than Keenan Burton. Last year I thought that that was one of our deepest and most talented positions. Then we lost four of 'em to season-ending injuries. Keenan came back at the end of the year with a screw in his foot. Tommy Cook came back and played a few games after he dislocated his kneecap.
It was a position that I had a lot of concern going into spring practice. I had concern coming out of spring practice. Dicky Lyons, John Logan have had good summers, but they need to step up and do it. We brought in quite a few new players. Steve Johnson, out of Laney Junior College in California. We have quite a few freshmen receivers. One or two of those freshmen will probably play this year as Keenan Burton did when he was a true freshman, had a touchdown catch in his first game against Louisville at home that year.
I feel a lot better right now than I did at the end of spring practice about our abilities at wide receiver. I hope I feel a lot better about three weeks from now than I do now.
Q. How excited are you to see Micah Johnson in fall camp? What are you looking for from him?
COACH BROOKS: Well, I mean, you know, when I met Micah, he came on our campus I think about maybe two and a half years ago, saw him for the first time. He and his brother Christian, who was going to Hargrave Military at the time. I kind of thought these guys had already graduated from college and looked like the guys I'd been coaching in the NFL.
He's a specimen. He's a guy that is committed to being a great football player. He works very hard. I'm just excited to see what he can absorb as quickly as he can absorb it when we get him on the practice field.
The unfortunate thing in our situation, when a player of his renown, if you will, comes into a program that hasn't a lot of success, a lot of fans are thinking he's going to be the safe your, he's going to come in and be a starter right away, he's going to be a savior. That's a lot of unrealistic pressure to put on any incoming freshman. I think he'll be a good contributor, a major contributor to our team this year. Do I think he'll right start right away? I doubt it, but it's not impossible. Do I think he'll be a more major factor as the year goes on? Absolutely, I do. I think he's a special talent.
I know it's been a long day for you assembled folks out here. I appreciate you being patient with me today. Thanks.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
End of FastScripts...