Vaught's Views: Faith a priority for Barnhart

September 14, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

With all the controversy he's found himself part of in the last nine months, no one could blame University of Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart for turning down some speaking engagements.

Some functions obviously are too important to UK for him not to attend. But the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Victory Banquet here Monday night is not one of them. Yet the featured speaker for the event at the Centenary Methodist Church Christian Life Center will be Barnhart.

"I think it is important for me to be there," said Barnhart. "Certain things in life are more important than your job."

Say amen, especially considering the way sports often dictate the lifestyle and morals of far too many coaches, players and administrators.


"Part of my platform at the University of Kentucky is to represent myself the right way. My faith is very important to me and FCA is near and dear to my heart," Barnhart said. "I've been asked to speak to several FCA groups and I try to do them all. FCA builds character in people and it gives your people a chance to see that no relationship in my life is more important to me than my faith.

"With all the things we have to do in college athletics, I understand the separation of my job from other things. But at the same time I think it is my responsibility to share my faith when given an opportunity through FCA to do that."

Barnhart's faith has been tested since his arrival at UK. Football coach Guy Morriss left because Baylor offered him and his staff more money. Barnhart had to conduct a lengthy coaching search before hiring 61-year-old Rich Brooks and the transition got off to a rocky start when UK opened the season by losing to Louisville.

Barnhart gave basketball coach Tubby Smith a lucrative contract extension after he guided the Wildcats to a 16-0 mark in Southeastern Conference play and NCAA Tournament regional final berth. He also changed women's basketball and baseball coaches.

If that wasn't enough, he significantly raised ticket prices in football and men's basketball.

However, he's continued to be open and candid about everything from scheduling to ticket prices to coaching changes. He even posted a letter to UK fans on the school's athletic website last week.

"We are supposed to lead by example and my first year at UK has been a little more challenging than some," Barnhart said. "I still remember telling (UK defensive end) Otis Grigsby the night after we lost to LSU when we were in the locker room together that the Lord never gives you more than you can handle. It was amazing how quick those words came back to me.

"It is a very important part of my walk as athletics director to understand the role I have to play. My faith is the important thing in my life. My family is second. My job is third. I put my life in that order all the time and let everyone around me know those are how my priorities are structured."

Barnhart plans to talk Monday night about the difference in being successful and significant, something we all fail to distinguish far too many times. While winning is important, it's not all that does, or should, matter.

"There is a big difference in the two," Barnhart said. "I have nine championship rings and a lot of people would deem that successful. I don't deem that significant. It's the role I play in young people's lives that we represent here at Kentucky and the opportunity to lead them the right way that makes a big difference.

"If they choose to follow Christ's example and follow me in my step of faith, terrific. I would never force that on them, but I want them to see what is important to me. Those are their choices to make, but I want them, and others that will be at events like those sponsored by FCA, to see how special my faith is to me."

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