On Sports
by: brooks

Oregon football as we know it today wouldn't have happened without Rich Brooks.

Oh, the Ducks might have gotten here, anyway, with the help of Phil Knight. But the man who set the table for all the success enjoyed on the gridiron by Mike Bellotti and Chip Kelly is Brooks, who patrolled the sidelines as Oregon's head coach from 1977-94.

I'm tickled Brooks is being recognized with induction into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame Sept. 28 at the Multnomah Athletic Club. So is Brooks.

'There have been a lot of great teams and people inducted into (the state's) Hall of Fame,' Brooks says. 'It's a real honor for me to be included in that group.'

Two of Brooks' mentors - Tommy Prothro and Dee Andros - are members of the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. Brooks played for Prothro at Oregon State and coached under him with the Los Angeles Rams, and he served two stints coaching for Andros at OSU.

When you think about the major influences in Brooks' coaching philosophy - including Dick Nolan, for whom he worked with the San Francisco 49ers; Terry Donahue, for whom he coached at UCLA, and Dan Reeves, for whom he served as defensive coordinator for four years with the Atlanta Falcons - you understand that pedigree matters.

'I learned so much about fundamentals from Tommy,' Brooks says. 'Dee was such a master at pregame talks and halftime speeches. I learned a lot about defensive football from Dick. With Terry, it was organizational skills. Working for Dan was good experience on game management.'

Brooks turned 70 in August.

'At least I'm still alive and kicking,' says the former UO coach, who retired from coaching after the 2009, ending a seven-year run as head coach at Kentucky. 'I'm playing a lot more golf these days. I've had some good rounds. My best score this summer is 76. Hopefully some day I can shoot my age.'

Rich and his wife, Karen, took a three-week vacation to Europe in June, visiting Switzerland, Belgium and The Netherlands. The Brooks will celebrate their 50th anniversary next June. Two of Rich's four children live in Oregon - daughter Kasey in Lake Oswego and son Brady in Eugene. There are five grandchildren.

Brooks knew from his high school days in Grass Valley, Calif., that he wanted to coach.

'I just liked my high school coaches,' he says. 'It was something I wanted to do.'

Brooks' parents divorced when he was 12. His father worked in the gold mines in Allegheny, Forest City and Nevada City. His mother was a nurse in Grass Valley. It was a small-town environment growing up in the 1950s, and Brooks and his older brother, Wayne, played all sports.

Then it was on to Oregon State for Rich, who wound up in the same pledge class at Phi Delta Theta fraternity as another athlete of some repute - Terry Baker, the 1962 Heisman Trophy winner. They became close friends.

Rich was a starting defensive back and backup quarterback to Baker his junior and senior seasons at OSU. There wasn't a lot of playing time available behind Baker.

'I really got to play only one game at quarterback,' Brooks says with a laugh. 'I was 3-for-3 against Idaho. I tell everybody I led the nation in passing that year.'

Brooks began his 45-year coaching career as an assistant coach with the OSU freshman squad in 1963. After a year coaching high school in Northern California, Brooks returned to Corvallis to serve five years under Andros at Oregon State.

In 1970, Brooks joined Prothro's staff at UCLA, then moved to the NFL for two years when Prothro took the head job with the Rams. Brooks came back for a year as defensive coordinator for Andros at OSU in 1973, went back to the NFL for two years under Nolan at San Francisco, then spent a season at UCLA after Oregon State hired Craig Fertig over the other two finalists - Donahue and Brooks - to succeed Andros.

In 1977, Brooks was hired to succeed Don Read at Oregon. After a pair of 2-9 seasons, the Ducks enjoyed two winning campaigns - 6-5 in 1979 and 6-3-2 in 1980 - behind quarterback Reggie Ogburn. Three more losing seasons followed, though. After seven years at the UO helm, Brooks' career record was 24-49-4, and there were grumblings from many fans that the Brooks era should end.

Brooks' Civil War record 'saved me for a while,' he says.

There has never been a bigger winner in the interstate series. As a player at Oregon State, Brooks was 2-0-1. As an assistant coach at OSU, he was 6-0. As a head coach at Oregon, he was 14-3-1. That's a collective mark of 22-3-2 - hard to beat.

In the first 11 games against his alma mater as the Ducks' head man, Brooks was 10-0-1. If only he could have coached against the Beavers every game.

Those were different times in Eugene.

'We had not only the worst facilities in the Pac-10, but some of the worst in the country,' Brooks says. 'Now they arguably the best and are still working on improving it.

'The administration didn't put a lot of resources into football at that time. We were reasonably competitive a lot of those early years, even though we didn't win a lot of games. They were just happy with the status quo. That's one of the reasons Oregon football stayed down for so long.

'Until (then-Athletic Director) Bill Byrne decided to put money into facilities and we got a new practice area, the prospects for turning that program around were slim. Once we invested in the program, things changed.'

In 1989, then-UO President Myles Brand authorized guaranteeing Oregon would buy several thousand tickets for the Ducks' participation in the Independence Bowl at Shreveport, La. Oregon beat Tulsa 27-24 in the school's first bowl appearance in 26 years.

'One of the best decision for Oregon football ever,' Brooks says. 'It showed people we would travel some fans, and we were able to win that game. That turned the tide of Oregon football.'

Five years later, Brooks coached the Ducks to the Pac-10 championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1958. Brooks won the Bear Bryant Award as the national coach of the year.

Brooks left Oregon after that season and was hired as head coach at St. Louis. He was fired after the Rams went 13-19 during his two seasons. He then served four years as defensive coordinator with Reeves at Atlanta, helping the Falcons to the 1998 Super Bowl.

In 2003, Brooks took over at Kentucky. The Wildcats were in the midst of NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations, and they went 9-25 his first three seasons. He had winning campaigns his final three years there, making bowl appearances all three years and providing the school's first bowl victory since 1984.

When I ask Brooks about his biggest career achievements, he doesn't mention winning seasons or bowl victories.

'I'm proud of working with a lot of great young men, seeing them doing well in the world, making a living, being good husbands and fathers and being successful at what they do,' he says. 'I've really enjoyed that.

'When I was at Kentucky, a group of guys who called themselves the 'Dirty Dozen' - players I had when I was an assistant at Oregon State - would come back every year to visit. The association with those guys is more meaningful than anything. Same with some of the guys I coached at Oregon and Kentucky. That's what coaching is all about.'

Brooks' career record at Oregon was 91-109-4. That doesn't come near to telling the story of his impact with the Ducks.

'At least I got it headed in the right direction,' he says. 'We did some major improvements in the football environment there. What has transpired since I left has taken it to a totally different level.'

I ask how he feels when he attends games at Autzen, which is now co-named 'Rich Brooks Field.'

'Pretty amazing, really,' he says. 'Pretty amazing.'

Life is good in retirement. He has homes in Eugene and Lexington and is building a winter home in LaQuinta, Calif.

'We spent the summer in Eugene, we're in Lexington for most the fall and we'll be back out (to Eugene) for Christmas,' he says. 'Once most of my players graduate (from Kentucky), we'll spend more of our time in Eugene.'

Last year, the Brooks drove to Happy Valley, Pa., and spent several days with Joe Paterno. Rich plans to do that with other former coaching associates in coming years.

'This year, we went to Kentucky's opening game against Western Kentucky in Nashville,' he says. 'The next week, we got on a plane and flew to Dallas for LSU-Oregon.'

Next week, he'll get on a plane for Portland for the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame ceremony. It's a fitting tribute. No coach has done more for football in the state than Rich Brooks.

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