Ten years ago, Kentucky football fans awaited the inevitable. Another disappointing season loomed, one that likely would end the tenure of Rich Brooks, whose team the previous season had limped home with a 3-8 record. They had been competitive in most of their losses but the “limp” was hard-earned: After the season, the football Wildcats endured a total of 35 surgeries.
A faction of UK fans were in full throat during that ’05 campaign, demanding Brooks be ousted just a few weeks in. The outcry was stifled during an open week, midway through the schedule, when Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart publicly stated that Brooks would finish the season and be evaluated then. Players spoke out on behalf of their embattled mentors.
“Leave our coaches alone,” said Keenan Burton, a wide receiver with the sway not of a quarterback, but a team president.
You know the rest. The 2006 Kentucky team put aside a mid-season, 49-0 shellacking at LSU, re-grouped and won its way to the Music City Bowl.
This year’s UK team stands at a similar fork in the road. Go this way and you’ll be sitting home in December, watching roughly half the teams in Division I play in a bowl game somewhere. Go that way to join them.
It’s time. And that’s not me talking. That’s from a guy who was part of the turnaround in ’06.
“There’s no more excuses,” says Jeremy Jarmon. “There are none.”
Jarmon was a redshirt freshman defensive end in 2006. And on a recent edition of the “Big Blue Insider” radio show, he said the Wildcats that season fully comprehended what was on the line.
“The redshirt freshmen in ’06, we understood what was at stake when we went out there and took the field,” he said. “We liked Coach Brooks. We liked our coaches. We wanted to finish our careers at UK with these guys. That’s why we played so hard. That’s why young guys stepped up and made plays – because we knew we had to.”
That, he says, is the mind set this current team needs, not that any coach, anywhere, ever would solicit that brand of pre-game motivation. The last thing a player needs to carry onto the playing field with him is the added burden of the future of the coaching staff. But it’s real. And it’s time, Jarmon said, for players to make plays, the way they’ve been schooled.
“The level of support from the coaching staff on up – it’s immense. It’s time for these guys to respond,” he said.
Jarmon has seen the talent level rising at his alma mater. And he believes the Wildcats have been properly taught. Now, he said, it’s up to them.
“The coaches have put these guys in situations to be successful to make plays,” he said. “It’s time for these guys to make plays and make names for themselves and play within the scheme. It’s that simple. And I think the players are at a point to understand that.”
After that LSU loss in ’06, Jarmon admitted, the plane ride home included some deep inner reflection. As he drifted off to sleep he wondered if he had the stuff it took to be a viable part of an SEC football team, one that could produce the turnaround he envisioned when he turned down established programs and signed with Kentucky.
Turns out, he did.
He sees similar talents in this Kentucky team – not just the highly-touted youngsters, but the veterans as well.
“Now it’s time for these young guys, but most important,” he said, “they’ve got a lot of older guys, too. It’s time for these guys to make plays. There’s no more excuses.
“The coaches are doing a good job. Now it’s time for the players to respond. It’s on these guys.”
Just as it was 10 years ago, before a season that sparked a five-year streak of bowl games. It was on the players back then. They knew it. They were ready for it. And they nailed it.
A decade later, once again, it’s time.