In the Short Term
And here we are again. Is 2-4 at this point in the season good or bad?We have come to the halfway point in the first year of the Rick Brooks era. The 2003 edition of the Kentucky Wildcats football squad has played six of their 12 games and their record stands at two wins and four losses. Two and four. Is this good or is this bad? Well, it depends on how you look at it, that is, are you looking at this season in the short term or in the long term?
What does that mean? To put it simply, when this season began, there were a few things that the fans in the Commonwealth were expecting. The 2002 Wildcats went 7-5, but were unable to go to a bowl because of NCAA sanctions. Unfair? For the most part, yes. The coaches and administrators responsible for the rules violations were out, but the infractions did occur and a punishment must be accepted. Because of the NCAA probation and scholarship limits, the true harsh punishment from the NCAA loomed to really hammer the Cats over the next few years. Most UK fans realized this, but looked at the 2003 team as pretty much an extension of the 2002 team and thought, "Hey, we went 7-5 last year, almost 8-4 if not for the LSU miracle, so going at least 6-6 should not be a problem. We'll go out on a good note, taking this senior class to their first bowl, before we endure the rough years ahead." This view, going for the bowl this year and then settling in for the punishment, is what we will call the short-term view.
The long-term view of the UK football team goes like this. Head Coach Rich Brooks, Offensive Coordinator Ron Hudson, and Defensive Coordinator Mike Archer know that their jobs do not depend on how they do this year. Outside of finishing 0-12 and losing every game 100-0, there was really no way Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart was going to fire any of them. Hudson and Archer are both veteran coaches who have developed/devised very specific systems. For Hudson, let's just call it the K-State Offense, after the teams he put together for Bill Snyder at Kansas State. It consists of a versatile run/pass attack that is best utilized by an athletic and agile quarterback. For Archer, it is the 3-4 defense. Brooks obviously knew this when he hired them, and he also had to know that the players he currently had on campus were not recruited for this system and did not necessarily fit it that well. Regardless, they decided to implement their systems immediately and begin adapting what they had to this system. They had to know it would be rough going, but for the long term, they believe it to be in the best interests of this program to have a single and consistent offensive and defensive philosophy. This is the long-term view.
And here we are again. Is 2-4 at this point in the season good or bad? Short term, bad. But not as bad as you may think. Regardless of what they told the media, and possibly even the players, this coaching staff was not pointing toward a bowl as the prime goal for this season. They know that the road to respectability in the Southeastern Conference is long and hard, and the quicker they can indoctrinate their system and begin recruiting for it, they quicker they will be successful. The perception among UK fans is that, in the short term, this system is not working and is holding back Jared Lorenzen. The numbers, however, do not seem to hold this out. Contrary to popular belief, the previous coaching staff did not simply put J-Lo back in a shotgun and let him wing it. In 2002, UK as a team averaged 185 yards per game in the air and this year they are averaging 198 yards in the air. Last year, J-Lo completed 56% of his passes, this year it is at 61%. Now, if the numbers are close or better, how is it that last year was a good year and this year is a bad year? Easy, last year UK won. But, numbers do not tell the whole story. Watch a game, you'll see Lorenzen running for his life behind an offensive line that has seemingly forgotten how to block since last season. This offense is not doing J-Lo any favors and the absence of any sort of rushing attack means he will be forced to do more if they hope to win any more games. Short term, this team's goal was to go to a bowl, a goal that may not be achieved. In the short term, they look to have failed.
In the long term, it may be too early to tell. The good news is that the defensive players have responded to Archer's system a lot better than many people thought they would, and a lot of players are returning next year. The offensive side of the ball has not gelled as well, but any experience is good experience, right? Think about this, in 1990 UK hired a basketball coach, he was Italian and pretty loud. Anyway, this coach also came into town with a set system, full court pressing and bombing threes, and players that were not recruited for or necessarily suited for this style. A .500 record that season led to a Regional Final appearance two years later. In this case, the coach was able to put in his system from Day One, and the team was able to adapt and thrive. That coach was in a different position than Brooks and Co., in that there was no immediate pressure or belief that he would win. However, the benefits gained from immediately implementing the system are obvious, and that is the potential long-term benefit of doing it now.
The only hope is that the long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term heartaches. So, is a 2-4 record heading into their final six games good or bad? It depends if you are a fan of the senior class of 2003 or if you are a fan of the program.
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