University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said Saturday that there has been a lot of interest in the vacant Wildcats football coaching position but that he has not yet offered the job to anyone.
"It is a good job," Barnhart said. "People are excited about the opportunity to coach in our league and coach at the University of Kentucky."
In his first public comments since the firing of Joker Phillips as Kentucky's head coach, Barnhart also said he has no timeline for hiring a new coach. He's just looking for the best possible fit.
"We continue to work through the process," Barnhart said. "The goal is to continue to build up the foundation that Joker has put in place: the young talent that we've got, the respect and accountability that he's gained in the locker room, the way we conduct our business. Those are the things that we want to build upon. We've been working at it. We'll work our way through that process. We won't short-circuit that. I don't think there's any reason to do that. We'll let you know when we get done."
Barnhart spoke to the media after Kentucky's season-ending 37-17 loss to Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday.
Barnhart said he appreciates the fans' patience with the coaching search, which began after Phillips' firing on Nov. 4, saying a lot of misinformation has been "flying around."
"No one has been offered the job," Barnhart said. "People have been responsive. People have been responsive about talking about the job. It's much different (than) last time. We were on probation, looking at 19 scholarships down. There wasn't a lot of folks that were thinking it was a really great opportunity."
When asked what qualities he's looking for in Kentucky's next head coach, Barnhart chose not to specify, saying he'll recognize the right fit when he sees it. But he said enough young talent returns next season to make the job attractive.
"The opportunity that we have ahead of us -- as you've seen today, we put over 400 yards of total offense on the board," he said. "We've got some young guys still trying to figure out what to do and how to get it in the end zone and finish those pieces. That will come. The person that walks in will have an opportunity to inherit some of that young talent. There's obviously some things we've got to get better, and we all know that. That's why we're in this position, but we do have some young players in this locker room that do care about this program and have a chance to move it forward."
Barnhart's parting comment on UK's 2-10 season spoke well of the team and Phillips.
"Players have been great through the whole process," Barnhart said. "The coaching staff has been wonderful through the process. Joker has been as class as class can be. He has been an amazing, amazing guy, which hasn't changed at all. He's just exactly what you would expect. He expected our players to conduct themselves a certain way, and he has been the absolute example of how to do that. I respect him very, very much. On a day when we close our season down, that's about where I'll leave it with you today."