Whenever a coach like Rich Brooks leaves a school like Kentucky, there's a tendency to focus on the positive. With Brooks, there's perhaps better reason than usual; this is a coach who came to a program that lost five scholarships in each his first two years due to one of the most horrendous recruiting scandals in years and patiently worked to turn the Wildcats into a perennial bowl team.
Your humble correspondent has taken part in the hailing of what Brooks did at Kentucky and sees no reason to back off; if Brooks weren't known for being no-nonsense and unflinchingly honest, one might think that his humble assessments of his record upon retiring from the head coaching position this week were false modesty. In case you missed it: Kentucky went to four straight bowls. And won three of them.
But -- and this is a problem we're going to face a few times in the SEC over the next five or so years, when Steve Spurrier almost certainly will and Bobby Johnson could retire -- let's not overstate things. Brooks made Kentucky far better than it was, but that's a pretty steep curve we're grading on.
Click on the chart if you need glasses.
The 2006-07 seasons were undoubtedly the Golden Age of Brooks' tenure in Lexington. The team saw its Brooks-era highs in overall won-loss records; SEC record; and place in the SEC East. The Wildcats also claimed three of their seven division wins during Brooks' time and their only two wins against Top 25 teams.
Look at the entire record, though, and you find that it's not too terribly different in some respects than Vanderbilt over the same time frame. The overall record is better, but I think we all know that those numbers are at least in part due to Kentucky's confectionary non-conference slate. The Commodores, meanwhile, have more wins over teams ranked in the Top 25 when they played (five); one fewer win against the rest of the SEC East (six); and placed higher than Kentucky in the SEC East three times when you include tiebreakers.
That's not to say that Kentucky isn't a better program right now than Vanderbilt, just that the Wildcats are remarkably closer to the Commodores than they are to the Floridas and Georgias of the world. They are nearer to the top than they were when Brooks got there, but are still a long way away.
It also gives a sense of the enormous task that faces Joker Phillips and a new coaching staff as they take over in Lexington. It was hard enough bringing Kentucky this far in seven years; now comes the truly difficult part.