Matthew Mitchell pledges $1 million to Kentucky athletics department

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJune 6, 2014 

Matthew Mitchell and his family live close enough to walk to places like Commonwealth Stadium and the renovated softball and soccer venues at Kentucky.

The UK women's basketball coach and his wife Jenna wanted to see this place where they've laid down roots continue to grow, so they've decided to donate $1 million to Kentucky athletics.

"We wanted to be a very small part of what all they're doing," Mitchell told the Herald-Leader early Friday morning. "We just wanted to participate and show that we're totally committed to all of the exciting things that are going on at UK right now."

Mitchell made the pledge, which will be spread out over 10 years, to Mitch Barnhart recently. The coach said it will mostly be used for capital projects, but he's leaving that up to the athletics director's discretion.

"The things that are going on facility wise for us and Commonwealth Stadium and all of the improvements that are on the way for football are so critical to every other program on campus that that program maximizing its financial effectiveness is crucial to all of us," Mitchell said.

UK is in the middle of a $120 million renovation at the football stadium and is preparing to build a privately funded $45 million football practice facility nearby.

The Kentucky women's basketball coach said he appreciates the chance that Barnhart took on him seven years ago when Mitchell said he "didn't have a lot of credentials" and "wasn't the biggest name that Mr. Barnhart could've hired."

Mitchell wanted to offer his thanks in a tangible way.

"In the coaching profession, you can live a real nomadic life, bounce around to different places, chasing a place like Kentucky," Mitchell said. "The fact that we were able to land here at a pretty young age and put some roots down in this community and also the success we've had, we felt has all been a blessing.

"We just wanted to give a little bit back to the program that's been so good to us."

In a release from UK, Barnhart praised Mitchell's selflessness.

"I want people to know and understand what special, special people Matthew and Jenna are to this community," Barnhart said. "I'm very thankful for their generosity, team approach and long-term vision to this athletics department and this university."

This isn't Mitchell's first big-ticket donation. When Kentucky extended his contract in 2012, the coach donated $100,000 of that money to scholarships on the academic side.

This season, as part of the "We Back Pat" initiative, Mitchell donated more than $40,000 to the Pat Summitt foundation as it tries to increase awareness of Alzheimer's.

At his news conference to introduce his two new assistant coaches on Friday, Mitchell said he wasn't worried about making a $100,000 commitment spread out over the next 10 years.

"We just sort of decided this is our home, so whether we're coaching or not isn't gonna impact our love for this university," he said. "This is our school now. ... That part of it doesn't concern me at all. We'll make good on our commitment, no matter what happens."

He did offer some interesting imagery if UK ever does ask him to step down in the next decade.

"I've become such a big fan, then I'll just be at all the games for everybody else," he said. "Then I'll start calling in the call-in shows and really get riled up. So it'd probably be better for them to keep me on for a while."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.

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