Matthew Mitchell would go to a restaurant and someone at the table next to him would whisper it.
He'd head out to pick up some groceries, and the phrase would pop up again.
"'Coach, I hope you're going to stay at Kentucky,'" Mitchell said he would hear regularly from Kentucky fans.
This statement always perplexed and puzzled the UK head coach.
"They often say that with a tone like they would think there is somewhere better for me to go," said Mitchell, who has been head coach for five seasons. "There are not many places better than this."
UK confirmed that the admiration was mutual when it signed Mitchell to a contract that probably makes him the highest-paid women's coach in the Southeastern Conference.
The deal, announced Thursday afternoon at a news conference, will pay him a minimum of $7.95 million during the next seven years.
"He's become an ambassador for this university in some very, very unique ways," Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said at the event.
Under Mitchell, UK has advanced to two NCAA Tournament Elite Eights in the past three years. This season, the Cats won their first SEC regular-season championship in 30 years.
With all but one starter returning and a roster that will include five McDonald's All-Americans, UK probably will be a top-five program to start next season.
Not about the money
When Mitchell was hired at UK in 2007, he was lured away from Morehead State for an SEC bargain basement price of $150,000 base salary, plus $100,000 in endorsements and other incentives.
Mitchell's new deal calls for him to make $525,000 in base salary next season plus $375,000 in broadcasting and endorsement compensation.
That base salary will increase during the following three seasons, crossing the million-dollar threshold in the 2014-15 season.
Several of Mitchell's incentive bonuses also will rise each season.
If he were to hit all of his incentives (for SEC titles, coaching honors and grade-point averages) and win a national championship next season, he would make nearly $1.3 million including salary and bonuses.
The new deal puts him at not only the top echelon of coaches in the SEC but also in the nation. Before Pat Summitt stepped aside as Tennessee head coach last month, she reportedly was making an SEC-high $1.5 million a year. She now will make $354,375 in her new "coach emeritus" position.
New Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick's contract is a four-year deal worth $485,000 annually plus incentives.
Reports from 2010 have Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma raking in $1.6 million a season, making him the highest-paid women's coach in the country.
Other top salaries in the SEC include Louisiana State Coach Nikki Caldwell, making $700,000 a season in base salary with as much as $550,000 a year possible in bonuses and incentives.
South Carolina's Dawn Staley received a contract extension in 2011 that pays her $675,000 a year through 2013.
Mitchell said the money was nice only in that it provides security for his family.
"Very quickly as a high school coach you learn that that is not the way to make a lot of money, so you don't do it for the money," he said. "You're dumb if you think you're doing it for the money. I've never put a lot of thought to that."
Longtime friend Mark Hudspeth, who just signed a new deal of his own as head football coach of Louisiana-Lafayette, said money wasn't Mitchell's motivator.
"He's the type guy who feels like he's never gone to work a day in his life because he loves what he does," said Hudspeth, who grew up with Mitchell in Louisville, Miss. "He's never been a coach that looks for his next opportunity. They always seem to find him."
Mitchell's $7.95 million contract includes a new $250,000 retention bonus if he stays with the university through the end of the deal in 2019.
It's a good way to honor loyalty and longevity, said Pam Stackhouse, who came to UK at the same time as Mitchell as an assistant coach under Mickie DeMoss.
"By 2019, he will have invested a large part of his life into that program," said Stackhouse, now a senior women's athletics administrator at Bellarmine.
And it's where Mitchell wants to be.
"If he continues to be successful ... I don't see any job out there that would be a better fit for Matthew than Kentucky," she said.
The former assistant coach and administrator said she was happy to see Mitchell sign such a lucrative deal.
"He loves to coach. For him, it's just a bonus that he gets paid," she said before adding with a laugh, "I'm sure he doesn't want Mitch (Barnhart) to know that."
■ Mitchell is close to hiring an assistant coach to replace Kyra Elzy, who left UK for a similar position at Tennessee recently. Per school regulations, nothing can be announced until the job posting has closed, which has now happened.
■ On Thursday, Mitchell said he called UK President Eli Capilouto and promised to donate $100,000 from his new contract to the university for academic purposes.
"We just wanted him to know we are partners here, we want to be great servants to the university."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.