Back from a Labor Day break, it’s time to dive back into the book blog. Start writing one of these, and you begin to realize how many friends you have writing books!
But today, less than a week out from the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky renewing their football rivalry, it seems right to take a look at book that focuses on one of the central figures of that rivalry now.
By Tom Leach, Clark Publishing, 312 pages
This isn’t a narrative, or an as-told-to effort. Leach’s first book reads like what it is, a piece of solid journalism. He has interviewed many of Brooks’ friends, colleagues, former players and family and spent a great deal of time with Brooks himself to reconstruct what has become one of the most successful eras in UK football. Leach quotes others liberally, and gives center stage to his subject and the events surrounding him.
The book opens with the Wildcats’ program-changing 24-20 win over Georgia in 2006. But within a few pages, Leach goes back to Brooks’ biggest crisis as UK coach, the 49-0 loss at LSU in October of 2006.
One of the more interesting revelations is Brooks calling his friend and Jessamine County neighbor Brett Setzer on the Monday after that loss and talking about needing to start thinking about potential buyers for his home. If he lost the next game against Mississippi State, Brooks said, he thought he’d be gone.
That sets the mood for what follows, as Leach navigates through interviews and game reconstructions the rebirth of Kentucky’s program, from the brutal practices after that loss to the highs of three bowl wins.
The book is well put together. Leach, the radio voice of the Wildcats, injects a nice touch with excerpts of his radio calls to tell the story of some games. Most people in the media who work with Brooks will tell you he’s the straightest shooter they’ve ever encountered. Leach found nothing different. An excerpt of Brooks talking about how he handles media coverage:
I have some other very good friends in coaching who do not read the paper, will not listen to talk shows. They will still get feedback but they are also afraid to tell the coach what is being said because they don’t want to get him upset. It is just my philosophy taht I am not going to go out of my way to listen to something or read something, but when given an opportunity if I am in the car and there is a talk show on, I am going to listen to it. Sometimes it is not very pleasant, but you get a sense of what is going on, and I kind of get a feel for how I can approach my team better when I know what the overall temperature is, let’s put it that way.
I was reminded, reading that, of former U of L coach Bobby Petrino, who used to preface any complaint he had about something I’d written with the words, “My wife read . . . “
And Leach takes us into the locker room for last season’s Liberty Bowl, a locker room that was reportedly missing some paint on the walls after Brooks’ halftime speech, with the Wildcats trailing East Carolina at the break. Brooks says:
I was out of control for about three to four minutes when we got in there. I went off. I can’t totally tell you exactly what I said but I said it with a lot of passion. I didn’t kick anything or throw anything. I have done things like that in the past and hurt myself, so I have gotten a little smarter than that.
Brooks’ friend, Dr. Grady Stephens, said, “I have never heard so many cuss words in my life come out of his mouth. He made everybody that wasn’t on the team leave the locker room but we could hear him in the hallway.”
The book includes a great deal of statistical and other supporting material, box scores from every game Brooks has coached at UK, rosters and photos of all his teams, and a number of other photos. After recounting the past three seasons of UK football, Leach backtracks to the beginning of Brooks’ UK career and his early years, then traces back farther than that, to his upbringing, his past coaching jobs and his time in the NFL.
At times you wish Leach’s interview subjects would have given you just a little more candor — like a snippet of that halftime speech, even if it required parental guidance.
But what Leach has achieved here is a complete accounting of coaching career that has quietly become one of the most important in UK athletic history. It’s a book that needed to be written, on a subject who deserves the respectful and professional treatment Leach provides in its pages.