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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops got a little needed inspiration from a source familiar to UK football fans — former coach Rich Brooks.
The two talked Monday after Brooks returned to Lexington for last weekend’s Alabama game.
“I really enjoyed it. That’s the second time we got a chance to sit down and talk, and I love visiting with him and have a lot of respect for coach Brooks and what he’s done, and I want him to feel welcome and be around here,” Stoops said Tuesday. “He came to practice today and I asked him to talk to the team for a little bit, and it was great. It was a great message, and Coach was here and visited with the team for a few minutes, and I love that.”
Brooks, like Stoops, faced major problems trying to win when he took the job.
“He’s got a lot of experience and he really understands this place, and it does help. So it was good. He was actually telling me that – I forget what year it was – the year they took a thumpin’ (by) LSU and they had a bye week and they came back and won five of their next six,” Stoops said. “So that was good to hear.
“I’m not getting that far ahead of myself. I’m worried about one. I would just like to get one (win), but it was good to hear that. I think that’s where he started turning the program. It just clicked and it turned and they had some good success from there. So it was good to hear those stories and just visit with him.”
While Kentucky coach Joker Phillips walked away with a smile on his face after his last game at UK, defensive coordinator Rick Minter didn’t exactly do the same and even offered some advice for the next coach — which is now Mark Stoops after the Florida State defensive coordinator was named head coach Tuesday.
Minter — who has been at 13 schools during his 35-year coaching career and was fired as the head coach at Cincinnati — noted that UK showed little loyalty to Phillips.
“I’ve been through what he’s been through, and I know how tough this is, and how challenging this is, particularly being an alumnus,” Minter said after Saturday’s loss at Tennessee. “You know, ‘this is my school,’ so to speak. Those would be his words, ‘this is my school’, and they threw him out. No matter what you say, they threw him out. And he can say he’s numb, but I guarantee you he’ll feel it, if he doesn’t already. It’s real. He’s just done a great job fooling you guys (in the media). It was a quick trigger, in my estimation. But nobody asked me what I thought.”
Minter, who indicated he would like a chance to coach in the NFL, said the administration has “been really good to us” and then noted how expectations rose to high — at Kentucky — because of the success former coach Rich Brooks had with four straight bowl appearances.
“It’s so unfortunate that perhaps over the last five to seven years, expectations maybe rose, and, of course you want to win – we all do – but maybe the perception was higher than the reality wa,” Minter said. “All of a sudden you don’t have a star quarterback like (Mike) Hartline, and you don’t have a Randall Cobb catching balls, and before you know it, you’re not moving the ball as well,. Then you lose a Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, and you don’t quite have the forces to replace those guys just yet into your (defensive) system.”
Minter also had a few shots for Brooks.
“Just because he (Phillips) was the coach-in-waiting doesn’t mean he made the decisions that made the program go,” Minter said. “When I was a head coach, I made all the decisions. He’s made them for two years and 10 games. He didn’t make them for five or six years just because somebody said, ‘Hey, someday you’ll be the coach here.’
“Rich Brooks made all those decisions until that one day when he walked in and said, ‘Hey, guess what, I’m out’. That’s when he (Phillips) started changing the staff a little bit and trying to change the culture to fit the Joker Phillips way. It wasn’t necessarily bad or worse than Rich, just different.
So those are the things that really disappoint us as coaches is that we didn’t have a chance to cultivate and grow our team to get more and more of those kinds of guys to where you start reloading like the other teams do, and not once in a blue moon you get a star and lose him, and all of a sudden you fall off the map.”
He said success at UK is “hard to sustain because stars don’t come around very often.”
“When you have them (stars), your expectations rise, and when you don’t have them, you get rid of the coach because he didn’t have any stars,” Minter said.
Minter called Kentucky a “tough place” to coach and blamed the lack of in-state talent as a major hurdle for any UK coach to overcome.
“You have to go outside your state, and to do that takes time to develop the inroads in recruiting,” Minter said.
He argued why give Phillips a five-year contract and then “pull the cord” after two years and 10 games as UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart did when he fired Phillips after three straight losing seasons and a 2-10 mark this season.
“I feel so bad for Joker, I really do. Because he was a lifer here, and he really was on the right track. I know people don’t want to hear that. And he has a great staff. And none of us wanted to go anywhere else,” Minter said. “And when you hire the next guy, if he’s really good, he won’t stay. And if he’s really bad, you get rid of him, too. But you had a lifer here in Joker. Winning was the goal, and not leaving would have been his goal. So we hope the administration will use sound judgment and hire a great guy, and I hope everybody gets behind him and shows some patience.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
He broke his left ankle in a preseason game last year against Pittsburgh and missed the entire season, but the Carolina Panthers still signed offensive tackle Garry Williams to a two-year contract last November. Williams, who was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Kentucky in 2009, played in seven games his first season — primarily on special teams — but played in all 16 games in 2010. He started the final 11 games at right tackle after Geoff Schwartz moved to right guard and helped the Panthers rush for 100 or more yards in eight of the last nine games with a season-high 212 yards versus Atlanta.
Williams, a Louisville native, played in 45 games at UK and started 39. He was a second-team all-Southeastern Conference pick in 2008 and allowed only one sack in 428 pass plays that season. He was also a second-team all-SEC pick in 2007 when UK set a school single-season record for most points scored with 475.
He came back to Lexington last week to help at the C.H.A.M.P. Camp put on by former UK player Champ Kelly, now the assistant director of pro personnel for the Denver Broncos. Williams said his ankle is healed and he’ll be fine when the Panthers open play and hopes to be in the starting lineup.
Question: Do you ever think back to how far your career as come from the time you got to UK as a player even a little unsure about your own future to being on a NFL roster?
Williams: “I am proud of myself. I set a goal and still going for it. I am not there yet and won’t be until I retire. I set goals and just keep working hard daily. Coming off my ankle injury, I made sure my ankle would be 100 percent when we started OTAs (organized team activities) and that’s what I did.”
Question: When did it click in for you that not only playing in the NFL was possible, but that you could do well at that level?
Williams: “When I got there, I knew I was a hard worker and I knew the NFL looked for guys that worked hard. I was going to give them everything I had and I just knew they would look at me and I continue to show them that I am a hard worker and that I am here for the team and would do anything for the team.”
Question: Is there a particular special memory you have of your years at Kentucky?
Williams: “That would be beating LSU (in 2007 when LSU won the national championship). That was the most special thing, but it was special just being with the guys. I got some great friendships attending Kentucky and I continue to talk to some of them. There was just a special bond a lot of us developed at Kentucky.”
Question: Was the success your team had at Kentucky due to talent, coaching or players bringing out that talent in each other?
Williams: “We brought it out in each other and worked together. That is what (UK head coach) Joker (Phillips) is working on now. He is a new head coach and is still doing a great job. He is telling guys what we did when we were there and he is breaking it down to see what he has to do with these guys now and instilling in them what it takes to win. That’s what he has to do. The program is at a turning point right now with new guys and he just has to instill certain things in them and they have to learn and listen to what he has to say because he is a good coach.”
Question: How much did the quality and quantity of in-state talent (Andre Woodson, Keenan Burton, Jacob Tamme, Corey Peters, etc.) lead to UK’s success during your time at Kentucky?
Williams: “We did have a lot of in-state talent. With me being out in Carolina, I really have not kept up as much with the in-state talent now at UK, but when we were playing we had a lot of in-state talent. I played with some great guys. I just hope we can continue that at Kentucky.”
Question: Is it any surprise to you that Tamme has done as well in the NFL as he has and just recently signed a lucrative free agent contract with Denver?
Williams: “It doesn’t surprise me at all. That guy, what he did in college was what he did in high school. For him to do it in the NFL, that doesn’t surprise me at all and shouldn’t surprise anybody. Same way with Corey Peters. All the guys doing what they are doing now is not a big surprise. They worked hard and they kept fighting. That’s why they are having the success they are now.”
Question: Once you get to the NFL, do you stay friends with all your former teammates or do new competitive rivalries prevent that?
Williams: “No, nothing changes. We still talk. When we play each other, we make jokes and things like that. But nothing has really changed.”
Question: What do you like to do now when you get a chance to make it back to Kentucky?
Williams: “Rest. I don’t do much. I go visit people and stuff like that, but I don’t do a lot of stuff.”
Question: What’s going on with that full beard now that you never had at Kentucky?
Williams: “I have had this a while. I cut it about a year ago and then started growing it again. I don’t think I will cut it again.”
Question: How good are things with you right now with Carolina since you signed that new contract back in November?
Williams: “Everything is going well. Guys on our team have their head on straight and are working hard. We are looking forward to having a big season. Last year we made big strides, but we want that Super Bowl ring. It’s a big step up but we have the talent and we have the coaches and the mental mindset to do it.”
Question: How good is quarterback Cam Newton?
Williams: “He is an excellent guy. Not taking away any other quarterback, but he is a special guy. I saw him play in college (at Auburn). He tore it up. He has lived up to his expectations and we just hope he keeps rising.”
Question: Do you miss Rich Brooks, your head coach at Kentucky?
Williams: “I do miss coach Brooks. He was a great coach and still is. Even though he is retired, he is still a great guy. You cannot forget coach Brooks ever.”