Mitch Barnhart – Media Day 2016 From UK Athletics
From UK Athletics
University of Kentucky Football Media Conference
Friday, August 5, 2016
Mitch Barnhart, Director of Athletics
MITCH BARNHART: Appreciate the time. Good to spend some time with everybody. As we get started, I sort of wanted to recapture where we were from last year, sort of look forward as we go into this year.
It’s an exciting time of year to get the kids back on campus. It’s a great time to reconnect with our young people. They’ve been here all summer working hard. I’m pleased with that, with the progress they’ve made, the things that they’ve done. But obviously it’s the start of a new year so that means a lot for us.
We finished 26th in the Directors’ Cup last year as a department. It’s fine. It was okay. It was the fifth (straight) time we finished in the top 30, which is great on one hand. On the other hand, not real pleased. I thought we left a lot on the table. I want to find a way to continue to move our program forward.
I want to congratulate the teams. Obviously we had some successes, did some really cool things. Two championship teams last year. Our men’s basketball team won the conference championship, co-championship in regular season, tournament championship, and our men’s soccer team won the Conference USA championship. Congratulate them.
We had a lot of great individual performances. You all have chronicled a lot of those, seen a lot of really cool things. Our kids are doing some really cool things. I’m excited about having a lot of those young people back.
In the classroom, we’ve had two more semesters with GPAs above 3.0. That is eight straight semesters our kids have been about a 3. I think it speaks to the commitment in the classroom, the things they’ve done. They’ve been terrific in so many ways. I think we were almost a 3.2 last year in the spring semester. When you combine the fall and the spring, some of the highest numbers of folks on the SEC honor roll of any team in the Southeastern Conference.
Again, I think for the 12th year of the APR, we’ve been penalty-free, which is really important. We’ve never had a team penalized for APR as it relates to the national standard by the NCAA for APR. I know it doesn’t get a lot of legs with everybody, nobody really recognizes what that means, but it means our coaches are doing a good job of connecting with our kids, making sure they’re staying on track, things they’re supposed to do, progress towards a degree. It looks different for every sport. We have a lot of those coaches that have been in the top 10% every year of that in the country. I’m really proud of what they’ve done in terms of that.
Our student-athletes did over four thousand hours of community service last year alone. Again, when you talk about what they do, I came up during the summer, thought about it a little bit, what it means. So many times we talk to some of our young people. We say, What’s your major? They give you their major. I will tell you, they’ve got a double major. Sometimes a triple major. That’s the life of a student, okay?
They’ll give you their academic major. Then they have their life as an athlete. That’s another major. A lot of time there’s this community out there they lead. All have double majors because of the amount of time it takes to do those two disciplines. Really, really hard to do what they do.
I think if we all look back at our lives in college, we would say, Yeah, I didn’t have a whole lot of free time to do this or that. They have found time for both those things and do them remarkably well. I don’t want to lose sight of that.
For a very elite group of them, they add this third component of service. It’s a very unique triple major they take on. So I want to congratulate them for what they do and how they do it, the way they conduct themselves, it’s really, really hard. So that’s important.
I think we’ve got some people that represent our institution remarkably well. I’ll touch on those in just a second.
Two years ago we finished 11th in the Directors’ Cup. Highest finish in the history of our school. Sort of signified that we had arrived at a spot of a place to set new goals for ourselves. One of those things we set was a goal to be a top five department by 2022. Pretty lofty goal for us for a lot of reasons. I don’t think we need to go through each one of those pieces. But I do believe that you can get comfortable. If you don’t set pretty lofty goals, aspire to something greater, we all read books on that, we all read things about how you grow companies, organizations, businesses. We’re not a lot different from that. We have to aspire to something greater. Our goal to be a top five department hangs out there, something I want our folks to look for.
We have some coaches in our midst that are really, really talented, and they’ve brought some terrific young people into our program. We want to continue to grow to that. To be 26th is nice. There’s 350 schools in Division I athletics. We’re certainly in the top 10% of all Division I programs. We’re sixth in our league. If you look at it, out of the 14 schools in the SEC, we were sixth in our league. Again, nice neighborhood, but we’d like to be a little further up. We’ll continue to work at that and try to find our way to be at the elite level we want to be. That’s important for us.
We’ve put some resources in place that I think are pretty wonderful. We’re going to continue to work at that. Some of you that have been at the new training center next door, pretty cool, pretty neat place, pretty spectacular.
But it is familiar to some of the other facilities we’ve put in place for our programs. Russ Pear, I want to publicly thank him for all the hard work he’s put in. The last three and a half years of his journey, holy smoke, a lot of hard work. To Russ and his family, who he’s been away from an awful lot as he helped us work on these facilities, I want to say thank you to him. I appreciate his dedication to the $180 million that’s happened in this corridor that you’re sitting in right now. The last couple, two, three years he’s gone out of his way to work unbelievably hard for the University of Kentucky. I want to thank him for that.
The training center next door is spectacular. Incredible reviews from a lot of different people. Is it the best in the country? I don’t know. But it’s awfully good. It certainly gets us in the neighborhood of having a conversation. It’s a difference maker for what we’re trying to do. Kentucky doesn’t have a lot of people in terms of population for a state, a lot of Division I athletes coming out of our state, we have to recruit, go across borders, recruit differently. It gives us an edge and gives us something different that we’ve had in the past. Hopefully it’s a difference maker and changes the game for us a little bit. We’ve used that slogan before.
We transformed some facilities. We’ve got some more things we want to do. We want to continue to put resources and expectations and match those up. We talk about that a lot. Putting resources out there, have them hopefully have an expectation that those two things marry up both for our fans, our staff and for our kids. As they begin to go into things, they have resources, now we can say, Guys or gals, we’re equal to what we need to have in order to be competitive and be at an elite level in the Southeastern Conference and nationally. That’s what we’ll continue to try to do. We want to build that elite status on both sides of that deal. We work really hard to try to do that.
Obviously when our students came back, they had an opportunity to get in there really for the first time about two weeks ago. It was a lot of fun to watch the reaction on their faces. They went through the facility. They’ll certainly have some reaction to that, I’m sure. But I think they feel like they belong in a family in the Southeastern Conference. So obviously when we take the field, we’ve got to perform at that level.
I’m hoping our young people continue to grow up, mature, make plays that we think will bring the excitement level that we’re looking forward to in our football program.
I told students when you come to the University of Kentucky, you don’t get to be normal as a student here. You don’t get a normal student experience, all right? Because of what it means to be a student/athlete, and I want to get away from that term ‘student-athlete’. We don’t call them student engineers, student tuba players, student business people, we call them students. That’s what ours are, too, they’re students as well. They come as students.
Our students, when they come here, they do some remarkable things in a lot of different ways. I thought I’d highlight a few of those this morning so as you begin to look down the depth of our program, where we are, I don’t think 14 years ago we had this depth. So I’m going to touch on a few of those this morning and just run through some of the folks who have done some remarkable things.
They’ve changed their habits, chosen not to be normal, be different. I start with two national champions. Danielle Gayler won the first national championship in swimming and diving in the history of our program, had the chance to qualify for the Olympics, went to the Olympic trials. Didn’t quite make it, but remarkable young lady. She’ll be back to compete for us.
First freshman in the history of the 100-meter hurdles to win outdoors, Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, remarkable race. She absolutely was spectacular in winning the national championship in Eugene, Oregon.
We’ve had students like Sidney Dukes and Jacob Thompson, Hanna Carr who have become All-Americans or SEC champions in gymnastics, track and field, rifle and golf. Remarkable to watch what they’ve done as young people. They’re all coming back to compete for Kentucky again as we walk through this deal.
Nils Ellefsen and Alex Carter, they’ve done unbelievable jobs in community service, men’s tennis player, women’s soccer player. I want to thank them how they represent Kentucky.
We have a couple folks like Evelyn Akhator and Napo Matsoso. Evelyn plays for the women’s basketball team. Napo, pre-season player of the year in the Conference USA for men’s soccer. Both of them, their journeys to get to Kentucky, amazing journeys. It’s remarkable. They didn’t just decide to go to Kentucky, it took them a lot more for them to get where they were. They’ve come here and excelled and done well.
A young lady from Western Kentucky named Anna Hack. Maybe you don’t know Anna, but she qualified for the U.S. Open in women’s golf. Had an opportunity as a University of Kentucky student to go out and participate in the U.S. Open. Remarkable that she qualified and was able to do that as a relatively young person in our program.
Dominique Hawkins and Gus Benson, they’re from our home state. They represent us and are proud to be Wildcats. I’m always thankful they’re in our program. They quietly go about themselves and do a great job of representing Kentucky.
We have some folks like Evan White and Jon Toth and Meagan Prince who are among the best people in their positions. They’re unbelievable representatives of Kentucky. I think sometimes we don’t realize who they are, how good they are. Evan White, remarkable baseball player. You’ll visit with Jon today. Meagan Prince, she’s been in the shadow of Kelsey Nunley for a couple years. A couple of no-hitters. Done a remarkable job competing. She’ll be the person in the circle for the women’s softball team. It’s well-chronicled how well Rachel Lawson has been and how well she’s done.
Then you have Aldila Sutjiadi. She was one of the best in her sports. She was in the Elite Top 90. She won it for women’s tennis at the national championship this year. That is a combination of being really, really good at your craft and also being one of the best students in the country. She’s right here on our campus. It’s the second or third year in a row we’ve had an Elite 90 winner at one of the national championships. It doesn’t happen very often. It doesn’t. Two years ago we had Kendra Harrison who won one of the national Top 10 Awards from the NCAA.
So we have those things that are going on with some really remarkable people. By the way, if you didn’t see it, Keni set the world record over in London. Didn’t make it to the Olympics. We can talk about how that happens later on. Kendra Harrison, she sets the world record at 12.20 (seconds) in the hurdles. I’m sure most of you can run 50 yards in 12 seconds, but jumping over hurdles, right? If you haven’t seen her run, you’re missing a treat. It’s a record that may not be broken except by her for anytime in the near future. Remarkable young lady, done some amazing things.
As the season begins, I hope that most of our coaches and athletes take something from those examples. I’ve just gone through every one of our teams. I picked somebody off from every one of our teams that is unique and elite at what they do. It wasn’t difficult to go through and pick somebody off of every team because we’ve got an elite level group of young people in our program.
We’ve got some elite coaches. We have folks that are coaches at Olympic levels. We have coaches that are coaches of the year, being selected to be the best at what they do. That’s exciting for Kentucky. I think it speaks to where we are, that we’re in a position to make a run at those things that are extremely, extremely special.
To make that happen, we sort of need to get off to a good start. That’s where this football season, this soccer season, this cross-country season, this volleyball season, to get started in the fall well is something that’s important to us. We’ve had a little bit of a struggle the last couple years getting started in the fall, and not just from a football perspective in terms of what we’re trying to do, the goals we’ve set for what we want to get done. We have to be a little better in the fall, get jump-started a little bit better.
It’s not just getting there. It’s getting there and doing it well. So we want to do that. That has been a challenge. It’s been a call to our fall sports, let’s get after it and be a little better in the fall, not put as much pressure on our winter and our spring sports as we have in the past in terms to be the department we want to be. We’re working really hard at that.
With the recruiting that Mark has done, things that the staff has done, I’m looking forward to watching our football team. They’ve had a good off-season. They’ve positioned themselves well. I think they’re in a good spot. I’ve seen their bodies change. Our guys have put on good weight, some of them. Some of them have lost some weight and look tremendous. I’m excited to see the growth of where they are on the field as we begin fall practice.
I think we’ve got more quality of depth and experience than we’ve had here in a long time. We’ve got 12 (opportunities) to try to find a way to continue to grow our football program and get better.
Obviously we have to measure our program by improvement. That is something I feel as I go, I get that question all the time about bowls, stuff like that. We just want to improve and get better. I think if we do little things along the way, we’ll find our way to post-season play and all the things we want to get to. It starts September 3rd, that’s when we want to see that improvement.
I’ll stop and take any questions before Mark gets up here and gets your day started.
Q. Is there any chance to get back up in the Commonwealth Stadium championships for (high school) football?
MITCH BARNHART: Obviously there’s two or three pieces to that equation. One, we don’t have control of that. That’s controlled by the High School Athletic Association. We respect that. They have their agreements they have to work through. The fields are part of that equation.
Certainly we would desire to be in that conversation and have an opportunity. If the time is right, we would certainly welcome that conversation. So, yeah, we would love to be in it.
Q. What were the expectations when you gave Coach Stoops the extension two years ago? Where did you think you would be now? How do you see that?
MITCH BARNHART: I don’t look back to that, per se. Clearly we want to continue to recruit and be at a level of bringing people into our program that give us a chance to succeed. Mark has done that. He and the staff have recruited at a high level for us, some of the highest recruiting classes that we’ve ever had in the history of the program.
You look at the energy that they’ve poured into it. You have to have people in your program that you can win with. We’ve got some young people in our program that we think have a chance to make a difference for us, showing long-term stability. A commitment to that was important for us.
In today’s world, you’ve heard a lot of people talk about microwave societies, quick fixes, that kind of stuff. That’s what we all want. Everybody wants that. I go back. I’m old enough now, as I was referred to earlier, and I’m joking (laughter), I’ve been around this thing long enough, I can remember back when a coach got four to seven years to turn something around. It was mostly five, six, seven years. You had some time. Now you essentially have two to three years or somebody is going to hit the switch, they want to go on and get to the next person.
We get into a cycle we’re having a hard time getting out of in all sports. It’s not just college athletics, it’s pro sports and everything else. We’ve gotten into a cycle. It’s the cycle of if we don’t get what we want, we quickly get out of that. That change costs something to get out of on both sides. All of a sudden it changes the pressure on the tickets and on everything else you do. So the person coming in has a new set of pressures. If they don’t get it done, it gets to the top of that cycle and you’re back in it again. It’s a hard cycle to get out of.
You have to find a way to break the chain. You break the chain by finding success or having patience. Both of those are hard. I don’t know a lot of people that are patient, least of which me. I’m not a patient guy. You don’t get to spots of competitiveness without being patient. I think I’m better at it than I used to be. The idea of having to respond to all the things that we respond to in our enterprise, it requires patience.
Are we exactly where we want to be? We never are. I don’t want to get comfortable with where we are in our total program. I just told you that. I want to be better than 26th. I want to find a way to continue to grow our program, and we’ve had an eye to what we’re doing off the field, all the facets of what we’re doing. If you do the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.
Q. I want to get your thoughts on social media. Seems like the NCAA keeps relaxing its restrictions on the usage of social media. I know a lot of UK coaches are on Twitter. What are your thoughts on coaches and administrators, essentially your employees, using social media not only to reach out to potential recruits but just engaging with fans in general?
MITCH BARNHART: Well, two things. It depends on which parts of social media you’re talking about from the NCAA. Text messaging in recruiting… There’s a couple aspects to social media. One is how you reach young people, how they want to communicate with you, okay?
I think that as times change, the way we talk to young people, they are very tech savvy. They want to be connected that way. If you said, I sent you an email, I’m sure most those kids would go, I’m not doing email. I can shoot you a group text. Some of them respond to that. Then they respond other ways. Obviously all of other entities in social media, there’s ways to get to them.
There’s two pieces. One, how do you connect with them in recruiting. There’s some NCAA legislation to all of that. There’s some ways they’ve relaxed a little bit of that for us to be able to do that.
Then you have the other aspect. You have to divide the two. One is how you communicate with your fans, how the young people and your coaches and staff and administrators communicate with young people.
That’s the world we’re in. I think it’s really hard. What we tend to want to do, I say this all the time to our coaches, staff and athletes, we want to live life in the extremes. We want to live in the polars, we never want to live in the balance. It’s either all over here or nothing over here. Never do we find the middle. I don’t care what you’re talking about.
Social media, never be on Twitter, that’s not the answer. The answer is not to be totally loaded on Twitter. You can’t just communicate that way. How do you do enough to be socially acceptable in the world of social media and find some way to be reasonable and make sure you’re paying attention to your job or craft or whatever you happen to be doing.
There’s some things that are Twitter-able, if that’s a word (laughter). Did I just make that up? Pretty good. There’s other stuff that shouldn’t be Twitter-able. Shouldn’t be.
Q. Like what?
MITCH BARNHART: Stuff that needs to stay in the locker room. There’s health stuff. Doesn’t need to be out there. Personal stuff that involves relationships with people. Doesn’t need to be out there.
If you want to text that you got cheesecake last night, tweet that you got cheesecake out there last night. Who cares, great. Frankly, most of the stuff out there, I say, Who cares? I don’t really want to know what you did, who you’re having dinner with, it doesn’t really matter to me. I’m really old (laughter).
Q. Is that hard for 19-, 18-year-olds to draw that line?
MITCH BARNHART: It is. I have three kids. My son, he’ll say, Did you see what was on Twitter? He keeps me informed pretty much like that. Half these guys over here do that.
It’s hard for young people. That’s all they know. We all get to remember now, the first emails were sent in 1998, right? This is the technology generation. This is all they’ve ever known, all they’ve ever known. So they assume it’s been like this for forever. They don’t know any different.
They assume that all of us are locked and loaded, we understand the world and look in the same lens that they do. We don’t.
Why would they do that, why would they put that out on social media? That’s their world. We have to understand how they communicate. That’s okay. But balance is really important in all of that. It’s really hard to define what should be. I think it’s really hard for young people.