Adding Mike Archer as defensive coordinator for his first University of Kentucky football team was a wise move by new coach Rich Brooks.
Just as Brooks promised when he was hired, he sought a staff that was diverse in geography, race and age. More importantly, he now has two coaches on his staff who know the pluses and minuses of coaching at Kentucky. Archer was defensive coordinator at UK under Bill Curry before leaving to coach linebackers with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
New recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips not only played at Kentucky, but he was also on Curry’s coaching staff.
Phillips, who had been coaching at South Carolina, had been wanting to come back to Kentucky because his “heart has always been in Kentucky”: and he jumped at the chance to return.
Archer had a more difficult choice. He was happy in Pittsburgh. The Steelers annually have been playoff contenders and the linebackers have been the strongest part of the team’s defense.
However, two things influenced Archer. First, both his children will be at Kentucky next year. His son is already here on baseball scholarship and next year his daughter will become a football manager. While no coach is going to solely base a career decision on staying close to his college-age children, it certainly made returning to UK more attractive for him knowing that he would be able to spend more time with his family.
Second, UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart convinced him that the administration really was committed to having a winning football program, a commitment Archer may not have sensed when he was here before.
Archer, who was also head coach at LSU, and Phillips have numerous recruiting ties across the south. New offensive coordinator Ron Hudson and offensive line coach Paul Dunn certainly will have midwest connections after the success they enjoyed at Kansas State.
Overall, no one could have expected more from Brooks during his first month on the job. Look at all the things he’s accomplished:
® He’s put together a quality staff with two big-name coordinators.
® He’s persuaded in-state recruits Jacob Tamme of Boyle County and Ricky Abren of Hopkinsville to commit to Kentucky after they had scholarship offers pulled by the previous staff.
® He’s convinced all five UK scholarship players who were scheduled to enroll in January to do so rather than go to another school.
® He’s got quarterback Jared Lorenzen, wide receiver-kick returner Derek Abney and offensive lineman Antonio Hall all returning for their final seasons rather than test the NFL draft.
Brooks’ down-home style has impressed returning players, office workers and high school coaches in the state who he wasted no time contacting.
Danville coach Sam Harp, who has won six state championships, got a surprise visit from Brooks and five assistants last week after they came to Danville to have breakfast with Tamme and his family. They went to several other high schools last week, too, and certainly planned to be out even more this week.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever had that many coaches from Kentucky ever come down here, which was really impressive considering I did not have anyone they are recruiting this year,” Harp said. “It’s good to see that they realized immediately how important it is to get out and around the state. I think that’s an important first step for coach Brooks.”
It impressed Harp even more when the new UK coach told him that he wanted Chase Harp, the Danville coach’s son, to see him when he came back to Lexington last week. Chase Harp is spending time in Indianapolis working out in hopes of either being picked in the NFL draft or signing a free agent contract. He was UK’s starting tight end last year.
“Coach Brooks has been with the Rams and Falcons so I really respect his opinion,” Sam Harp said. “He says he thinks Chase has a good shot at making it at the next level based on what he had seen on film. It impressed me that he’s already been doing his film work and would take time to watch, and want to talk to, a player that is out of eligibility.”
It’s just part of the Brooks’ philosophy to leave no stone unturned and considering the short amount of time he’s been on the job, it’s hard to imagine how he could have had a better start.
Larry Vaught is the sports editor of the Advocate-Messenger in Danville, Ky.