Kenny Brooks leaves Virginia Tech for Kentucky job in stunning end of era

Virginia Tech charged into national title contention last month, much as it had a year ago en route to the program's first time in the Final Four. Now, the most storied era in Hokies history hit a rather stunning conclusion.

Head coach Kenny Brooks is leaving the program to take over at Kentucky, the school announced on Tuesday. Brooks, 55, led Virginia Tech since 2016 and built one of the best programs in the country. He went 180-82 over his eight-year career, including 56-13 over the past two years, and led the Hokies to four straight tournament berths.

"We hired Kenny in 2016 with the intent of revitalizing our women's basketball program," Virginia Tech director of athletics Whit Babcock said in a statement. "Needless to say, Kenny, his staff and student-athletes created a culture of excellence on and off the court. He was an incredible mentor to the young women in our women's basketball program and a terrific representative of our department and university. We wish Kenny and his family well in this next chapter of his career."

The exit compounds a difficult month for Virginia Tech after they were in line to contend for a national championship. Elizabeth Kitley, a fifth-year senior and three-time ACC Player of the Year, tore her ACL in the final game of the regular season and was unavailable for the postseason. Their chances at a deep run in the NCAA tournament plummeted and No. 5 Baylor ended their season short of the Sweet 16.

Brooks and the Hokies played coy on the injury until after Selection Sunday when they secured a No. 4 seed that allowed them to host. He announced it the same morning reports surfaced he was the main target for the Kentucky job after that struggling SEC program parted ways with Kyra Elzy on March 11.

Those two final games in front of a sold-out Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg served in hindsight as an official goodbye to the individuals who built the program. Brooks, Kitley and fifth-year senior Cayla King are all leaving, and it seems a higher probability that point guard Georgia Amoore, who has an extra year of eligibility under the COVID-19 waiver, will as well.

Kenny Brooks
Kenny Brooks left the program he built at Virginia Tech for the job at Kentucky. (AP Photo/Robert Simmons)

In the early years, Kitley and Amoore have said they spent their freshman and sophomore years offering donuts on campus to entice peers to the Coliseum. The program became so successful behind the quartet that they became rock stars on campus. Amoore (19.8 ppg, 6.8 apg) and Kitley (22.8 ppg, 11.4 rpg) were one of the most dangerous duos in the nation over the past two seasons who lifted Virginia Tech to its first ACC tournament title in 2023 and its first ACC regular season title this month.

"She and Liz both have transcended our program into something that a lot of people, most people, probably everybody would have thought is unimaginable,” Brooks told Yahoo Sports in January.

They were even better this year. Kitley, Amoore and King were the only returners from the Final Four squad, but Brooks believed this group filled out by transfers and freshman was the deepest squad he had ever had. Clara Strack filled in for Kitley in the NCAA tournament and played well as the next star for Virginia Tech, though its unclear who will lead the team as head coach. The player talent in the ACC is deep, and the Hokies will need to make a solid hire to keep competing at a high level.

As for Amoore, Brooks said in January they were talking through her options in terms of staying in college or leaving for the WNBA. It's a conversation he had in previous years with Kitley and Aisha Sheppard, a player he also gives credit toward for helping grow the program.

Amoore and Brooks are incredibly close, and he describes her as his "mini me." When they scrimmage in practice, he said he'll often hold her out so as to not over-use her and she'll call plays. It's the same play he would call about 70% of the time, he said. It's feasible Amoore follows him to Kentucky, though she would be an asset to a WNBA team in need of a point guard.

Even if she stays at Virginia Tech for one last go, the program won't look the same.

"I remain confident in the trajectory of our women's basketball program and when combined with our resources, specifically NIL, that the future of our women's basketball program is bright," Babcock said.

Kentucky is trying to compete again in an SEC led by South Carolina and LSU, two programs battling for the national title again this year. Matthew Mitchell resigned in November 2020 citing his health, and Kentucky fared well in Elzy's first two years with his recruiting class. They went 37-21 with an SEC tournament title. But they went 24-39 with six combined SEC victories over the two years since then.