Vaught's Views: Barnhart supports coaches

October 22, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

HARRODSBURG - If there has been one constant about Mitch Barnhart's first 15 months as the University of Kentucky athletics director, it has to be his unwavering support for coaches he believes are doing a good job.

He emphasized that again here Tuesday while speaking at the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce banquet.

Barnhart signed men's basketball coach Tubby Smith to a $20-million contract extension after Smith led the Wildcats to a 32-5 record last year. The deal was a bit unusual in that he did not contain a buyout clause in case Smith decided to leave Kentucky.

Barnhart was more interested in making sure he kept Smith at UK than worrying about what might happen if he did leave.

"He's got plenty of financial incentive to stay, and I have no doubt he will," said Barnhart.

The athletics director knows Smith will have the "great integrity" that Barnhart wants all his coaches to have. That's why Barnhart is not too worried about some high-profile recruits who have recently either committed to other schools or yet to make a decision about coming to Kentucky.


"I'm not saying that all coaches are cheating, but there are guys out there operating in the gray area (with the NCAA rules)," Barnhart said. "My coach is straight up and is going to do things the right way.

"He's not going to promise anyone playing time. He's not going to go into a gray area to get a recruit. I really appreciate that."

He's just as supportive of first-year football coach Rich Brooks. The Cats are 3-4 after last week's 35-14 win over Ohio University. Fans have been disgruntled over what is perceived as a stagnant offense and a series of missed opportunities to win the four games the Cats have lost.

"Rich is a tough guy," Barnhart said. "We are going to get there. Patience is the key word. He has a plan that he wants to get done, and will get done. Recruiting is going well. We have got some really solid commitments and the coaches are doing a great job.

"We knew this wouldn't be easy when we hired Rich, but he's committed to getting the job done and he will get the job done."

Then there is new women's basketball coach Mickie DeMoss, the long-time Tennessee assistant coach that Barnhart is counting on to pump life into UK's program. Barnhart and his staff have done a variety of things to promote the women's program. Banners hang inside Commonwealth Stadium touting the new coach. Advertisements have been placed on the back of Pepsi delivery trucks promoting UK women's basketball.

"She is a wonderful person and it's really a neat (promotional) campaign our people put together for women's basketball," Barnhart said.

Kentucky has never given women's basketball such visibile support, perhaps because it annually loses close to $1 million dollars. However, Barnhart believes that by upgrading the program not only will the team become more competitive, but that UK can also slowly reduce the deficit in the women's basketball program.

"I believe in what we do for all our athletes," Barnhart said after telling stories of two women's soccer players who are trying to overcome knee injuries and a female distance runner who completed a race after falling face-first on the spikes of an opposing runner. "I see the change in kids in our programs and the opportunity we give them to do something special.

"We see kids change from where they come from to where they are when they go."

He didn't apologize for raising ticket prices to provide better facilities and opportunities for UK's 500 scholarship athletes. Instead, he emphasized how it was important to treat athletes the right way and make sure they got not only the best athletics experience, but also a quality education.

But he also wants to win championships. Never doubt that.

"I want athletes to put (championship) rings on their fingers," Barnhart said. "We want to teach young people to compete the right way.

"I promise you in a few years we are going to be doing a lot of fun and special things at Kentucky. Change is not easy. It can be emotional, but we've got to keep growing to get better and we are going to make the University of Kentucky even better."

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