Vaught's Views: Barnhart did what he had to do

May 30, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

It was obvious when Mitch Barnhart was in Danville two weeks ago to speak at a Centre College fundraising event that he knew everyone was going to be watching how he handled the newest alleged scandal at the University of Kentucky.

Offensive coordinator Ron Hudson was accused of trading his complimentary football tickets for work done at his house.

Barnhart, UK's athletics director, understood the Wildcats still had a national perception problem in football because of problems associated with former coach Hal Mumme that landed UK on NCAA probation.

That's why it was no surprise Friday that Barnhart recommended Hudson not only be reprimanded, but that he also forgo his mandated pay raise for 2004-2005 for what Barnhart termed improper handling of his complimentary tickets.

While that may not seem like an overly harsh penalty, it's more than enough to show that Kentucky officials are determined not to have a repeat of the problems that wrecked Mumme's program.


"People make mistakes," Barnhart said. "What's most important is how we correct the problems and move on."

He's right.

Something had to be done

Something had to be done. Kentucky president Lee Todd had vowed Kentucky would not break NCAA rules under his watch, and a firm policy was implemented about what was proper use for complimentary tickets by UK players, coaches and administrators.

Hudson acknowledged in a statement released by UK that he was "well aware" of the ticket usage policy. He said he made an "innocent mistake" by leaving two tickets to two games last year at the request of the contractor who installed $4,500 worth of shelving at his home after the contractor requested the tickets from Hudson's wife.

Barnhart said it was a "challenge to sift through all the information" about who did what. However, one thing was always clear.

"There was a perception that a lot of people believed we lacked integrity in our program," Barnhart said. "We felt we had to make sure people knew that was not the case."

Barnhart and his staff plan to meet with every coach to "remind" them of the ticket policy and what they should not do with complimentary tickets.

Some probably will think Hudson's punishment should have been more harsh. Perhaps those who criticized Hudson's play calling last year in his first season at Kentucky were even hoping he might be dismissed.

Others may think the punishment was too severe for the so-called crime. After all, this is nothing compared to the sex-and-alcohol recruiting allegations at Colorado that somehow failed to cost Gary Barnett his head coaching job.

A public reprimand is a much bigger blow

If Hudson really was guilty of only poor judgment and/or being careless with his tickets, a public reprimand is a much bigger blow than taking away his pay raise for one year.

But Barnhart knew his handling of this situation was going to be watched and could send a strong message about how his regime would handle any hint of wrongdoing.

While I've disagreed with Hudson's play calling at times, I found him to be refreshingly honest, and it's impossible for me to believe he would jeopardize his coaching reputation over four tickets or to avoid paying a $4,500 bill.

But it's almost impossible to think that Barnhart could have looked the other way. He had to take action.

Remember the way he praised basketball coach Tubby Smith when he gave him his $20 million contract extension last year and noted that he could go to bed at night without having to worry whether Smith was following NCAA rules or not?

The UK athletics director has to have the same trust in his football staff, and he has to make sure all his coaches know he will not look the other way no matter how small, or innocent, the infraction might seem to be.

As he promised two weeks ago, Barnhart conducted a thorough investigation done and then took appropriate action to prove that he's as serious about having a reputable program as he is about having a winning football team.

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