John Clay: Fans should give Kentucky's Mitch Barnhart a break

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJuly 31, 2012 

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart spoke on Tuesday, April 3, 2012 during the arrival celebration in Rupp Arena of the University of Kentucky Final Four champions basketball team in Lexington.

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Sometimes, you just can't win.

Mitch Barnhart is on top of one of the highest mountains in the world, yet there's carping down below.

There has never been a more visible athletics director at Kentucky than Barnhart.

I'm not talking about on the floor of Rupp Arena or the field at Commonwealth Stadium for all the fans to see. I'm talking about visible to the athletes and various sports at UK. Barnhart seems to be at every function, no matter the sport, no matter the date, no matter the time.

So now that the UK AD has taken some vacation days to disappear and climb Mount Kilimanjaro — he and his expedition party reached its peak Sunday — some are complaining Barnhart's time would have been better spent back in Kentucky being seen with his embattled football coach.

My friend Kevin Faris of Ace Magazine tweeted: "So the UK AD can get to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, but can't make it to the Governor's Cup or Lexington Football luncheon?"

So let's see, if given the opportunity, do I want to undertake a once-in-a-lifetime experience or sit through another couple of rubber chicken dinners with the grip-and-grin set?

Seriously?

Barnhart missed the UK-U of L golf outing at the Cardinal Club on Thursday. He missed the annual UK Kickoff Luncheon in Lexington. He will miss UK Media Day on Friday and Fan Day on Saturday. Big deal.

He's scheduled to return to Lexington next week. He'll be around, if needed, for practice and, of course, the football opener at Louisville and, presumably, the rest of the season when, you know, the stuff that really matters takes place.

What was Mitch on the Mount supposed to do, anyway, stand up at the Cardinal Club and declare that embattled coach Joker Phillips is really and truly his guy?

Joker Phillips is his guy. Barnhart has spoken to that previously. He has a signed contract to that effect.

On July 31, what more does the AD need to add?

(Never mind that at the Cardinal Club, Barnhart's U of L counterpart, Tom Jurich, didn't take the podium.)

(Never mind that the ones complaining about Barnhart not being here to support his coach are the ones who want the coach out, anyway.)

(What if Barnhart had opened Friday's luncheon by announcing he had given Phillips a contract extension? Disgruntled football fans would have marched the AD back to the top of Kilimanjaro and thrown him off.)

Besides, no matter what Barnhart might say during summer speaking engagements, Phillips' future is going to come down to the number in the win column and the number of fans in the seats come fall.

The former will have a major effect on the latter. Joker knows that. Mitch knows that. The frustrated football faction of Big Blue Nation — those continually crying about a supposed lack of support — know that, too.

In the 1990s, C.M. Newton supported Bill Curry in every way imaginable. The athletics director supported his football coach right up until Curry went 26-52. Then Newton went out and hired a new football coach. Actions speak louder than words.

And can't a guy take a vacation? It's like the president — Democrat or Republican — being slammed for vacationing. Republicans yell when the Democratic president takes some get-away days. Democrats scream when a Republican president steals some R&R. There's always business to get done. Most of it can wait.

Despite certain evidence to the contrary, athletics directors are human, too. They deserve some time off once in a while or some time to do something else for a couple of weeks, just like the rest of us mere mortals.

I'd be more sympathetic to the Barnhart bashing if he was some sort of slacker.

Mitch Barnhart might be many things, but he's certainly not that.

I say give the guy a break — and congratulate him on his climb.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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