Whatever the result is for the Bat Cats in their first-ever Super Regional this weekend, take a second and thank Mitch Barnhart for hiring Nick Mingione. Since becoming Athletics Director at the University of Kentucky 15 years ago, Barnhart has worked tirelessly to raise the visibility and credibility of every program. Mingione is just the latest in a line of success stories for various UK sports.
Mingione on AD Mitch Barnhart drying seats after rain delay: "He has a servant's heart. He's one of the main reasons I came here."
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) June 8, 2017
I’ve written recently about UK no longer being “just a basketball school” and I listed a number of the improvements to facilities that have occurred under Barnhart’s watch. The article also included Mitch’s goal for academics for all student athletes (to achieve a composite 3.0 average), one that has been met for 9 consecutive semesters. And of course, I listed several of the coaches Barnhart has hired during his tenure that have been taking their programs to new heights which have lifted Kentucky to the Top 10 in the current Director’s Cup standings.
Yet, for all the success that Barnhart has had and has brought to the University of Kentucky, there are still some members of the Big Blue Nation that refuse to acknowledge what a great job Mitch has done. When Kentucky Football started the 2016 season 0-2, it wasn’t just calls of “Fire Stoops!” that were heard. There were also calls to fire Barnhart. Really? How can people seriously believe that Mitch Barnhart should not be at Kentucky?
There’s the old reliable “But he hired Joker and nearly ruined Kentucky Football” argument. True, he named Joker the head coach after Rich Brooks retired. But you cannot use this as proof of being inadequate as an AD. Barnhart was the one who hired Brooks, a coach who many loved…after the first 3 seasons. Brooks was the one who campaigned to have Joker as the coach-in-waiting. It seemed logical that Barnhart would agree given the fact that Joker had served on Brooks’ staff and would provide some continuity for a program that had been modestly successful. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall fans being upset about the Phillips promotion until midway through his 2nd season. It’s easy to do the AD’s job with the advantage of hindsight, isn’t it?
Another popular argument against Barnhart was the hiring of He Who Shall Not Be Named to take the reins of our basketball program. Again, at the time of the hire, fans were generally excited as BCG seemed to be an excellent candidate. When it became clear he was not cut out for the job to head our vaunted hoops program, Mitch quickly rectified the error and brought in John Calipari. That should have been enough to recognize Barnhart is good at his job. But of course, it wasn’t.
There has been a small, but vocal faction of fans that dismiss the hiring of Calipari as a positive for Barnhart. “He never wanted to hire Cal and had to be forced to do so” is the refrain. While I’ve heard this repeated, I’ve never seen proof of this claim. I even spent a significant amount of time researching this topic, but all I could find were assertions on various fan message boards where someone “knew for a fact” that Mitch never wanted to hire John Calipari. When asked for evidence of the claim, none is ever provided. We’re just supposed to trust the fan and their knowledge of “the facts.”
Perhaps the claim was born from the failure to hire Calipari to replace Tubby Smith. Maybe they think having BCG “wasted” 2 years and cost the Wildcats a significant number of victories. If that indeed is the case, then I would argue that not hiring Calipari earlier actually saved UK some wins. Think about it: had Calipari arrived earlier, then Derrick Rose and his ACT baggage would surely have come with him. Would you really have wanted a season of wins vacated by the NCAA, no matter how flimsy the NCAA’s reasoning for doing so? Not me. I will always believe that things worked out as they should have, when they should have.
Much like how fans get irritated when rival fans want to dismiss UK’s basketball history by cherry picking certain time frames, they seem to cherry pick specific actions by Barnhart while ignoring others. That’s a convenient approach, but it doesn’t give you a lot of credibility. You cannot blame Barnhart for Joker without crediting him for Brooks and Stoops. You can’t slam him for BCG unless you are going to praise him for Calipari. Most importantly, you cannot judge his body of work without taking into account the entire body of work.
His title is “Athletics Director,” not “Basketball Guardian” or “Football Boss.” Barnhart has to oversee the entire picture and all of the sports at UK. We are experiencing success in so many programs that we’ve never seen before. Rachel Lawson has taken our softball team to 4 Super Regionals in five years. Matthew Mitchell has built our women’s basketball program into a perennial SEC contender and has led the Lady Cats to multiple Elite 8 appearances. Soccer, volleyball and track and field have been consistently ranked in the top 20 (or top 5, in the case of track & field). Our football program is finally seeing the fruits of Mark Stoops’ labor, as well as Barnhart’s efforts to bring our facilities up to SEC, and national standards. Basketball has always been consistent, and John Calipari continues to raise the bar for all of college basketball with what he’s done at Kentucky. And baseball? If you haven’t noticed the wave of excitement these past few weeks as the Bat Cats achieve heights never before seen at UK, then you just aren’t paying attention.
The best thing about all of Barnhart’s achievements? They’ve been done while maintaining a clean department, one that operates within NCAA rules. Take a look around the country; can the same be said at Kansas, Syracuse, or North Carolina? And just down the road on I64, more details emerge daily about the sordid mess that has occurred at the University of Louisville. Give me Mitch Barnhart any day of the week over Tom Jurich with the smoke and mirror finances to give the appearance that UL’s Athletic Department is far more profitable than it actually is.
So, criticize Barnhart when he makes a mistake. Express disagreement with his choices if you like. But just be sure you are giving him full credit for all the great things he has done. It’s time to recognize Barnhart is the man for the job.
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