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Mitch Barnhart

With the continued excitement over UK football recruiting, here’s a chance to look back at what Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart said when asked if his travels within the SEC inspired any of the elements of the new stadium.

“What you’re seeing is that you’ve got some very large facilities in our league. We’ve been pretty good in our league at that 99, 98, 97 percent capacity— somewhere in that range. There have been some gaps lately, even in the programs that have had sustained success. Our goal was to have some of the features in terms of ribbon boards and scoreboards. We’ve done that. I think what will be unique to us is that we will be a little tighter than some of those stadiums,” Barnhart said.

“Some of those stadiums tend to go away from you a little bit and create a vastness. In a way, I am trying to make it tighter. That was one of the goals of our project. I would almost say in contrast to what you’re asking; we need to go the other way and say ‘this is what we don’t want to do.’ We don’t want it to feel further away. We wanted to bring fans tighter to the action.

“I think it is incumbent among our staff to try and bring fans into the game, in terms of video and music and those kinds of things that engage our fans more. We have got to do a better job of it. Not just depend on what the team is doing on the field. We have got to a better job of it.”

uk-football yahtzeeBy LARRY VAUGHT

Why was it important for Kentucky to finally add a football recruiting room at Commonwealth Stadium?

Coach Mark Stoops and his staff could give a long list of reasons, but let’s stick to why UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart recently said it was important when he discussed plans for renovations at Commonwealth Stadium.

“Obviously, we can’t use it during the game. At this point, the rules allow us to use it pregame, at halftime, and postgame. Additionally, it’s close to where our locker room will be. That’s really important,” Barnhart said. “We thought it was important to create a great environment with our students around that area and give our student-athletes a feel of what it is like in the student body.

“When they come out of the tunnel we thought it would be a pretty good environment. We wanted to concentrate all of our team facilities in that end. Obviously, it is also close to the Nutter Indoor Training Facility and there are some pieces of that we still use.”

On if ticket prices will remain the same through the construction process …

“Right now our season ticket cost will remain the same going forward into 2015. There will be some movement in our stadium, and we know that. We will get to everybody in December and January and make sure to walk everybody through that. I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of who is going to be affected and how that is going to work out. We think that we can be solid through 2015 and we should be ok. Now, keep in mind that we’ve got eight (home) games in 2015, so the season ticket will be a little different because it is eight games instead of seven. So understand we may change how we do things structurally depending on the 2015 ticket price to eliminate confusion, but we will have eight games instead of seven.”

 

On how parking around the stadium will be affected …

“We are working our way through that. We don’t have a real feel of that yet. It depends how far the construction equipment has to go out. There are some things that we are going to start doing right away. In 2014 they will begin putting up some construction things around the stadium where they will begin working on utilities, infrastructure, and eventually steel. We will work our way through that. If you have traveled throughout the SEC you will see we have one of the best parking situations. Even if we have to lose a little of that, it’s still pretty solid. Our goal is not to hurt tailgating opportunities. We want to create an environment where people can continue to enjoy what has been a really nice tradition on game day.”

LEXINGTON, Ky. –  For the first time in program history, the University of Kentucky has been selected to host the First and Second Rounds of the 2014 NCAA Tournament in Memorial Coliseum, the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee announced on Wednesday.

In addition to Lexington, other cities chosen include Ames, Iowa; Baton Rouge, La.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; College Park, Md.; College Station, Texas; Durham, N.C.; Iowa City, Iowa; Knoxville, Tenn.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Seattle, Wash.; Storrs, Conn.; Toledo, Ohio; University Park, Penn.; Waco, Texas; and West Lafayette, Ind. The four selected regional sites are Lincoln, Neb.; Louisville, Ky.; Notre Dame, Ind., and Stanford, Calif.

“I am thrilled to hear the NCAA Tournament is coming to Memorial Coliseum,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “This gives our players the incredible opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament at home in front of the loyal and passionate members of the Big Blue Nation. We will have to prepare properly and work extremely hard to qualify for the NCAA Tournament so we can take advantage of this awesome opportunity. I know our fans would love to watch the Wildcats play in the tournament in Memorial Coliseum. I want to thank Mitch Barnhart, Sandy Bell, Candice Chaffin, Ukari Figgs, Kevin Saal and the entire Kentucky administrative team that did the important work necessary to make this happen.”

This marks the first time in program history that Memorial Coliseum (capacity 8,000) will serve as the site for a women’s basketball NCAA Tournament game. However, Memorial has been the site of 10 NCAA Tournaments in women’s volleyball and is set to host the NCAA Regionals later this season on Dec. 13-14. Kentucky served as the host of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four in Rupp Arena in 1986.

“The growth of this program over the last five years has warranted our participation in every way possible to host the post season in women’s basketball,” UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said. “The consistent appearances on a national stage, the support of an incredible women’s basketball fan base, and the enjoyable style of play that this team brings is a perfect combination for the growth of the game in women’s basketball in Lexington.

“Matthew and Jenna provide incredible leadership for our program and are great ambassadors for our community. They deserve, as does this program, to host this kind of an event on a regular basis. We are very excited to bring the NCAA Tournament to Memorial Coliseum.”

The nationally ranked Wildcats return 10 letterwinners and four starters from last season’s squad that won a school-record 30 games and advanced to its third NCAA Elite Eight in the last four years. Kentucky will be led by All-Southeastern Conference performers DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.), Bria Goss (Indianapolis, Ind.) and Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) and NCAA Tournament Bridgeport Regional All-Tournament Team honoree Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.). New faces to the roster are a trio of freshmen who come to Lexington with loaded resumes. McDonald’s All-Americans Linnae Harper (Chicago) and Makayla Epps (Lebanon, Ky.) join Kyvin Goodin-Rogers (Lebanon, Ky.) to form the fifth-ranked recruiting class, Mitchell’s fourth straight top-15 class.

The NCAA Tournament First and Second Rounds will be held March 22-25. Games will either be played on March 22 and 24 or March 23 and 25. Ticket information will be announced at a later date.

 

By PAUL KAREM

Larry, thank you for posting the article regarding the proper honoring of our courageous, ground-breaking, African-American football players at Kentucky. As most should know by now the names of those men are Nate Northington, Greg Pate, Wilbur Hackett and Houston Hogg.

I would also like to brng BBN up to date on the progress of this mission. Thursday I met with Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart for over one hour to discuss this project. He is on board with the requests and visions of “Bradshaw’s Boys” and the petition we and the former Curci players signed. What we have to do now is find the right way, the right method, and the right time to complete this much needed honoring.

Mitch has gotten the ball rolling by naming Hackett as the “SEC Legend” representing Kentucky at the SEC football championship game in Atlanta. Now we have to find a design and location that fits in the multi-faceted stadium renovation and the now certain evolution of our football program.

The argument that our present AD does not concentrate or invest heavily in football can now be permanently put to rest. GOLDEN DAYS are ahead for the Football Wildcats!

I love the way our little freshmen team fought USC and it is a sign of things to come. Think about it — our current returning roster coupled with a top seven recruiting class.

Now we have to find the right design to honor our black teammates and that process has not officially begun. Maybe we can design something to honor Nate, Greg, Wilbur and Houston that becomes part of a game-day tradition. Like the touching of the rock of Clemson or the “Play Like A Champion” sign the Notre Dame players touch coming out of the locker room.

Whatever comes along, there is a lot to be proud of and a lot to look forward to. Write it down … the new stadium design is going to be a blockbuster.

By GARY B. GRAVES, AP Sports Writer

Mark Stoops has spent the last eight months fulfilling the off-the-field demands that come with coaching Kentucky. Now all of that has given way to what Stoops was hired to do — lead the Wildcats back to respectability.

The Wildcats opened practice today with the rookie head coach and his new staff trying to rebound from consecutive losing regular seasons including 2-10 last year. Stoops’ challenge is compounded by depth concerns at wide receiver and running back and choosing from three quarterback hopefuls, not to mention surviving a brutal schedule that includes two-time defending national champion Alabama.

The media has picked the Wildcats to finish last in the Southeastern Conference’s East Division, but that hasn’t stopped Stoops from sparking enthusiasm among players, Wildcats fans and recruits.

That zeal will also require some patience.

“I really am excited about what we’re doing offensively and defensively,” Stoops said. “I feel like our players have a decent understanding of the basic concepts of what we’re trying to do. We’re just going to keep on grinding it out day to day. We know we have a long way to go, but we can’t start looking at the end results yet. There’s just too much work to do.”

Judging from the optimism around campus and the community, Stoops has done a lot since being hired last November to replace Joker Phillips, now Florida’s wide receivers coach. While any successor might have inspired a morale boost after last season, the brighter outlook could be credited to the 46-year-old’s impressive defensive credentials.

In three years as Florida State’s coordinator, Stoops lifted the Seminoles from 108th nationally in total defense when he arrived to No. 2 last season. He achieved similar success in six seasons under his brother Mike at Arizona, raising the Wildcats from 109th when he took over in 2004 to 25th in 2009.

No one was shocked when the youngest Stoops brother finally landed his first head coaching gig as a result.

“He’s been in big situations and tough games and has competed at a high level, so he knows what it takes to win at that level,” said oldest brother Bob Stoops, Oklahoma’s head coach. “I always felt for a long time that he’d have that opportunity. He’s very bright and competitive, and you saw the changes he made in what Florida State was doing defensively and the success they had. As those things started happening, more and more people are interested in you.”

Mark Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot face a bigger challenge trying to improve Kentucky (0-8 SEC), which allowed 391 yards per game last season and ranked in the bottom half of several league defensive categories. The upside is that this is the Wildcats’ strongest unit with the return of several starters including senior linebacker Avery Williamson and junior end Alvin “Bud” Dupree.

Wildcats fans might pay more attention to the offense and whether coordinator Neal Brown can inject excitement and trickery with his pass-oriented “Air Raid” scheme that had Texas Tech’s air attack ranked in the top 10 the past three years. Kentucky averaged just 315 yards per game overall and 176.2 passing.

Kentucky will need more than production with eight opponents going to bowl games last season, five ranked in top-10 of the preseason coaches’ poll and five of those contests on the road. The long road opens with a neutral-site meeting in Nashville on Aug. 31 against Western Kentucky, which upset the Wildcats 32-31 in overtime last season at Commonwealth Stadium.

Kentucky fans seem optimistic despite the challenges ahead. A record 50,831 saw April’s spring game, more than for five home contests in 2011. Last weekend’s sold-out women’s clinic attracted 523, while Friday’s kickoff luncheon was also a sellout.

Stoops has deftly handled cameo appearances with thoroughbred racing’s connections at Keeneland and the Kentucky Derby, while his speaking engagements around the state have been must-see events.

Athletic director Mitch Barnhart said while the reaction to Stoops has been great, there’s still work to be done.

“That won’t get you any victories,” he said of the fans’ excitement, “but it certainly helps with the enthusiasm in your program and the recruiting you’re trying to put in place, showing interest in Kentucky football.”

Stoops and his staff have hit the recruiting hard, succeeding in keeping in-state products such as Conner High School quarterback Drew Barker home while branching into Ohio State territory for prospects. The payoff so far is a 2014 class rated top-five by several services, and they’re not done.

On the field this season, Brown has three sophomore quarterbacks to choose from in Maxwell Smith — back from a season-ending ankle injury — Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles, both of whom played in his absence. The more pressing issue this month is who their targets will be with a young receiver corps.

Like Stoops, Brown is urging patience.

“We’re going to be different than we were at Texas Tech,” said Brown, a two-year letterman at Kentucky from 1998-2000. “Here, they haven’t been running a similar offense and we have to take the pieces we have and put them together to give us the best opportunity to be productive on Saturday.”

ukvswkulogoBy LARRY VAUGHT

Question: If the SEC goes to nine conference games, could the Louisville game becomes a victim of that and be dropped from the UK schedule?
Barnhart: “I don’t think we’re going to nine conference games at this point in time. Through 2015 or so, we’re solid, maybe 2016 … somewhere in that range. We’re not going to be at nine for a while and if we are, that’s another conversation down the road. But I don’t sense that’s an issue for us. It’s a game we’ve played, Louisville, for the past 20 years or whatever it is. And we’ll keep playing for a while. They’re going to a new league and they’re going to have their challenges and we’ve got our scheduling issues.

“A lot of things are happening in the world of college athletics, which to foresee, at this juncture. We used to schedule, five, six seven, eight years down the road. Now we’re scheduling two years down the road and hoping that those schedules hold. So we’ll have to see what happens. Right now, I’m just trying to find a schedule for 2014, ’15 and get those finalized. We’ll worry about the rest of it down the road as we get going.”

Question: Do you still want to play Louisville in week three when the game is in Lexington?
Barnhart: “I think a lot depends on the conferences. We’re all going through those adjustments. You’ve got 14 teams in each league, the league they’re going to, there’s 14 teams and they’ve got their scheduling challenges as we’ve got our scheduling challenges. Conference schedules as well. It’s not just Kentucky trying to get their schedule. This is everybody from Texas A&M to Georgia to everybody in between.

“Everybody’s got schedules we’re trying to fit all of this into a grid and make it work. And with the new television implications and everything we’ve got, we’re going to have to get this thing in position where everybody in our league has got a schedule they can manage.”

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart spoke to the media at the Governor's Cup event Wednesday. Click on the photo to view a video of what he had to say.

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart spoke to the media at the Governor’s Cup event Wednesday. Click on the photo to view a video of what he had to say.

By LARRY VAUGHT

LOUISVILLE — Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart talked briefly with media members at the Governor’s Cup press conference here Wednesday and touched on renovations at Commonwealth Stadium and Rupp Arena.

Question: How do you feel about picking an architect/builder for Commonwealth Stadium?
Barnhart: “It’s a start. It’s a long process. These things are lengthy. You go through schematic design, design phases, then you’ve got to go through the bid process, construction, all those pieces. It’s a long process. As things are playing out, hopefully we’ll be able to start moving some dirt around at the end of this season and people will see some progress. What that means long term for 2014 and then ‘15. Not real sure right now because the architects and all those folks have to come back with us and tell us what things will have to happen in stages. So it’s like a giant Erector set, Legos, whatever you want to call it. So we’ve just got to find a way, figure out what the next thing is.”

Question: How big is it to be able to put plans for a renovated Commonwealth Stadium in the football coaches’ hands from a recruiting standpoint?
Barnhart: “I think they know it’s happening. We haven’t gone this far … We’re clearly there. Now we just have to go through the actual process. To give them some actual pictures would be great. It would be really wonderful for them to be able to do that. To some degree when they come on campus, we’ve been able to walk them through. There’s no mystery in that. So we’ve been able to do that very effectively. Mark’s staff does a great job of walking people through what we’re trying to do.”

Question: What is UK’s involvement with the Rupp Arena renovations?
Barnhart: “We’re listening. We’re listening through that process. Clearly that’s a long process as well. We’ve got a lease through 2018 and there’s pieces of that puzzle that all have to happen whether that’s design in that process, what that means for us and what that looks like. It’s a fairly lengthy process as well and we’re in conversation with them and it’s a university conversation, which is great. We’re fine. We’re willing to take our time and be patient, not in a real rush and making sure it gets managed the right way.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

When Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown is asked about UK’s football facilities, he has a pat answer.

“If you have two commas in your salary, then you get to answer the facilities question,” Brown said.

However, all joking aside, Brown noted that the “administrative support” from the UK athletics department to football is a big reason he came to UK after a successful stint at Texas Tech.

“What facilities we have now do not hinder recruiting. But to maintain high level recruiting for a long time, we need as good or better facilities than anybody else has,” said Brown. “The money is there and you will see a significant upgrade in facilities. I think when it is all done, we will have as good of facilities as anyone in our conference.”

Brown knows UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart has been criticized for a lack of commitment to football, a knock Brown says is not fair.

“I think Mitch gets unfairly criticized,” Brown said. “Look at other places he has been. Oregon had a great football program. Oregon State was competitive in the old Pac-10. Tennessee was very competitive in the SEC. I think getting labeled as anti-football is unfair when you say he is not serious about football.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

What did anyone really expect Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart to say when he was asked about the year Louisville was having, which has been incredible.

Did anyone really think Barnhart would say, “Boy, they kicked our butts.” Or perhaps, “We’ll never have a year as great as the one they have had.”

No. No. No.

He’s the UK athletics director, so when he said Louisville had a “nice year,” that’s what he meant. It was not a sign of disrespect or knock to Louisville.

“At the end of the day, they’ve done some things in their major sports and they should be congratulated on that. They’ve had a nice year. What I’m proud of is the depth of our sports program and what we’ve done,” Barnhart said Tuesday.

Nothing wrong with that from what I can see.

“We’re not going to get into this back-and-forth stuff. Give them credit for what they’ve done,” Barnhart said. “They had a nice year, and that’s good for them. But I’m proud of what we’ve done. Our kids competed hard and we made significant improvements in a lot of sports and the consistency with which we’ve done on the field, on the court, those type of things, I’m really pleased with what our coaches are doing. It’s across the board. It hasn’t wavered much. There have been a couple hiccups, but we’ll get back to where we want to be. For the most part, our coaches have been rock solid.”

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