Pensacola, Florida -- No one in Pensacola expected Derrick Brooks to leave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this way.
Brooks, 35, a fixture with the Bucs and an NFL All-Pro linebacker, was abruptly released Wednesday by the team he helped bring to prominence.
"I was very surprised to see that," said Jimmy Nichols, the current Escambia High football coach who coached Brooks at Booker T. Washington High from 1987-90. "The last time I talked to Derrick, I asked him how long he wanted to play, and he said, 'Coach, I'm going to play as long as I can.' "
Drafted by Tampa Bay out of Florida State in 1995, Brooks compiled a 14-year career worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Brooks made 11 Pro Bowls, won a Super Bowl six years ago was the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
"This caught him completely by surprise," said David Wilson, former high school coach in the Pensacola area, who now manages the local chapter of Derrick Brooks Charities Inc., working as Brooks' liaison with the community.
Brooks said he will address his situation at a news conference Thursday in Tampa.
"I'm just trying to get a feel for it all, trying to come to grips with it. I don't even know what to think," he said Wednesday in an interview with the Tampa Tribune.
Wilson said it will be difficult for Brooks, a two-time All-American at Florida State, to move to another city and continue his career. He maintains homes in Tampa and in Pensacola. His children attend school in Tampa. His oldest daughter is in high school.
During his football career, he's basically had three residences: Pensacola, Tallahassee and Tampa.
"He's got so much invested in those three cities," said Wilson, who also coached at FSU, Georgia Tech and Mississippi State. "Although he wants to play, do you move and go to, say, Atlanta or Miami, if you can, or do you go into something else? That's what he has to sort out."
Brooks is considered one of the most philanthropic players in the NFL. Brooks has spent countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars to support charitable causes in Tampa and Pensacola.
Locally, one of Brooks' longtime causes is his annual Christmas drive, where he visits his former elementary school to deliver gifts to children who may not receive presents otherwise.
"It's great to see someone willing to give back to the community," Spencer Bibbs Principal Debra Simpkins said. "It tells the other children that there is someone willing to come back. Just because you grew up in poverty, he's showing that you don't have to stay there."
Before his release Wednesday, Brooks already was planning for next season with the Bucs.
"I'm appreciative of the respect by my teammates as well as my peers," Brooks told the News Journal in December. "I feel like I really worked hard (during the 2008) offseason to take my game back to the upper level in which I thought I could play."
Not a money thing
At Wednesday's news conference, new head coach Raheem Morris and new general manager Mark Dominik made it clear that Brooks' release was not a financial decision. Brooks restructured his contract with Tampa Bay two years ago and was scheduled to make $3 million in 2009. It was not immediately clear whether Brooks would pursue an opportunity with another NFL team.
"(Being released) is a great surprise to me because of all the great things he's done for that organization," current Washington High coach Chet Bergalowski said. "As far as I'm concerned, he's still playing on the top level."
D.C. Reeves, Pensacola News Journal