He wasn’t about to let it come to an end. After 15 years as a defensive line coach at the University of Tennessee, Dan Brooks found himself searching for a new job last winter.
When head coach Phil Fulmer was fired last year, Fulmer’s replacement, Lane Kiffin, made changes on the coaching staff and Brooks wasn’t retained.
After nearly 35 years of coaching, that could have been it for Brooks. But that’s not what he wanted.
“I really enjoy young people. It’s just what I’ve been called to do,” said Brooks, who was an assistant at North Carolina and Florida as well. “I never went through that (process until last year). I feel like I want to be done coaching when I want to be done. Not when somebody else wants me to be done. I still feel like I have something to give back to the game.”
Dabo Swinney felt the same way. That’s why the first-year Clemson coach hired Brooks in late March to coach the Tigers’ defensive line.
And Sunday, the 58-year-old was back in the Volunteer State. Brooks and the Tigers beat Kentucky, 21-13, in the 12th Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl at LP Field.
“It is good to get back (to Tennessee),” Brooks said last week before turning to business. “I’m obviously going to recruit Tennessee some. So you get back and you get Clemson football around people in Tennessee.”
Brooks’ commitment and devotion to his job caught Swinney’s eye last year. Even though Brooks had spent 15 years with the Volunteers and in the Southeastern Conference, his reputation knew no boundaries.
“The guy is as well a respected coach as there is in the business — by college coaches and by high school coaches,” Swinney said. “I’ve never been around a guy who works harder at his job, recruiting and coaching, than Dan Brooks.
“I’m really, really blessed to have him on our staff.”
And Brooks feels blessed to be there. In just his first year with the Tigers, Clemson went 9-5, won its division and reached the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game.
“I’m excited about what we got going on at Clemson. I really am,” he said. “I like the staff. Head Coach Dabo has a lot of things going on for a young guy. So I’m excited about Clemson. It really fits us and I’ve been really pleased with the young people I’ve worked with.”
Brooks, however, hasn’t forgotten about Tennessee.
His children went to school in Maryville and he still owns property outside of Gatlinburg. His daughter, Tara, graduated from UT, spent time under women’s basketball coach Pat Summit and currently works in the women’s athletic department at Tennessee.
“It obviously was pretty good to us,” Brooks said of UT.
It was a place that brought fond memories, including a national championship in 1998 and several SEC championships. He still talks to Fulmer and calls the coaching industry a fraternity — a group Brooks’ son Rhett, a graduate assistant at UNLV, is joining.
But he remembers the most from his Tennessee days is “just young people.”
“The guys you are still able to stay in touch with – whether it is guys you have recruited or guys you coached,” he said. “You just build a lot of relationships and there are a lot of memories.”
It doesn’t take long, apparently, to see how much Brooks cares. Just ask Swinney.
“He is all about the players. He as loyal as they come,” he said. “I mean a tremendously dedicated coach, father and husband. His nickname is ‘Oak Tree.’ He is as solid as oak — all the way through.”