Posted: 8:00 p.m. Tuesday, June 11, 2013
By Greg Alan Edwards
When I first joined this site a few years ago, football was coming off of some pretty good years. "Papa" Brooks was kicking tail and taking names, and that was just in his coaching staff. One discussion after another, thread after thread concentrated on the fact that not long before, Brooks was looking down the barrel of a gun with no end in sight, then the "Bowl Parades" began.
Brooks became a kind of cult hero for UK fans as he willed his teams into one lower tier bowl after another, getting the absolute most out of players that were less than stellar when it came to the rankings systems. He took kids that wanted to win and turned them into winners, even if it was only by virtue of a carefully orchestrated schedule and a lot of fluff in his out of conference opponents. Outstanding individual achievement added to some inspirational coaching. Add to the mix an over-the-top rivalry with Louisville at a time when the Cardinals were going through a difficult transition, and Kentucky found itself in a place when older fans were experiencing flashbacks to the 1950's.
Then, Brooks made it abundantly clear that he was not going to be around too much longer. He wanted more of a commitment from Kentucky and one was not going to be forthcoming. One by one, mistakes were made in an effort to maintain the success that the program had been experiencing. Joker Phillips was named "Head Coach In Waiting" by Brooks, and approved by Mitch Barnhart. Speculation at the time was this was being done to give continuity to the program, with the intention being to keep Kentucky from sliding back into the mire it had only recently risen from.
Unfortunately, it was a fool's errand as Phillips lost all the recruiting momentum that Brooks had gained, and also lacked the coaching abilities that Brooks was never appreciated for until he was gone. Add to that the SEC expansion and Louisville's rebounding strongly into their current success, and it was a recipe for disaster.
The threads got more contentious. One side claiming that Kentucky had lost it's momentum, while the other side stated that Kentucky could never regain their heyday due to the fact that recruiting was never going to be the same at UK. Florida, the rich, fertile land of the high school football player was beyond our grasp, and other schools had chokeholds on the traditional recruiting grounds. Kentucky's inroads in Tennessee and Georgia would not be enough to keep them competitive, and Alcoa, Tn. only had one Randall Cobb. The voices of reason here said that recruiting was just not going to happen, myself included. We said that we could not compete with the Florida's, Ohio State's, and Alabama's who were taking the best of the best from wherever they liked.
Fast forward to Mark Stoops. A coach with a plan. A coach with a pedigree. A coach who was not going to be denied access to those places where he could get players who were of a caliber to play competitive football in the SEC. Stoops has yet to win a game, but the recruits are coming. One by one, the recruits that we were told would not come here, are coming here. They are coming to Kentucky. That place where they were not supposed to come. The place where recruiting could not be done.
Despite the odds, they decided to come to the place where the stadium was crumbling, the fans didn't care about football, and the competition was just too tough to win. We "experts" said it could not be done. We said that winning could not occur without recruits and the recruits just were not going to come to Kentucky, and while the wins are not yet on the books, the stars are filling the locker room like a clear night sky. In one brief off-season, Stoops has almost as many top recruits coming to Kentucky as have walked through the doors in the last two head coach's tenures. Players who would have walked away from UK recruiters in year's past because they would not have even been seriously recruited are now wearing blue and white.
Let's face facts. The ball was dropped. Dropped into a well. Fumbled by people who just conceded that they could not get big time recruits and decided to take the leftovers. The entire time this was going on, we made excuses. We accepted it as gospel and gave up on the idea of returning to SEC success. We just bought the company line and followed along. Thankfully, Stoops does not subscribe to the theories that his predecessors did. Stoops went out and hired recruiters. He not only got bright, fresh, forward thinking coaches, he got guys who walked into top high school coach's offices and said "Where are your best? We want them at Kentucky".
When I am wrong, I say I am wrong. When I fail to see the forest for the trees, I 'fess up and ask for forgiveness. So here I am. There are others, but they can make their own pleas for mercy. I gave up and let myself be steamrolled into believing that success on the recruiting trail just could not be attained here at Kentucky. I humbly apologize.