Proving you can have a Kentucky-Louisville dust up over anything, U of L women's basketball coach Jeff Walz recently dinged Matthew Mitchell for dancing.
The Big Blue Madness dance act performed by the UK women's basketball coach has, improbably, become one of the most anticipated features of Kentucky's annual pre-season hoops pep rally.
This year, after Mitchell donned a blue sequined jacket and a pompadour wig and did a Bruno Mars-inspired dancing/singing routine, Walz subsequently implored WHAS-TV reporter Kent Spencer to ask the U of L coach why the Cards head man didn't dance.
"I'm not much of a dancer," Walz then answered. "I prefer to just try and coach in Final Fours."
Under Walz, Louisville has played in two Final Fours, 2009 and 2013. Mitchell and UK have been to the NCAA Tournament round of 16 four-straight seasons and have made three elite eights in five years, but have yet to punch through to the national semifinals.
Last week, I asked Mitchell what he thought of his rival's critique of his dancing.
"Jeff is as nice as he can be to me when we are face-to-face," Mitchell said, perhaps pointedly. "He, probably, was just cracking a joke. I'll see him sometime and I'll give him an Arthur Murray business card and he can take some dance lessons."
It is fascinating how much attention Mitchell garners for Kentucky women's basketball by being a ham in public — maybe that publicity is what rankled Walz. To some degree, Mitchell has used his personality to promote UK women's hoops in a manner similar to what Bruce Pearl did with men's basketball at Tennessee and seems to now be doing at Auburn.
Before Big Blue Madness, a headline over a blog posting at ESPNW.com (the women's sports site of ESPN) asked "Is Kentucky's Matthew Mitchell the coolest coach in college hoops?"
Just last Saturday, as UK took on No. 1 Mississippi State in football in Commonwealth Stadium, there was Mitchell decked out in a blue No. 22 Jared Lorenzen jersey and a backwards baseball cap. In between the third and fourth quarters, he led John Calipari, Rich Brooks and former UK football standouts Andre Woodson and Glenn Pakulak to midfield. There, microphone in hand, Mitchell led the crowd in a raucous "Blue-White" cheer.
"How about that Matthew Mitchell?" Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown asked after the game. "We need to get him in the locker room (to give a pep talk)."
More so than for a more publicly reserved coach, it is incumbent on a head man (or woman) with an oversized personality to win big. Otherwise, a disgruntled fan base will use a coach's penchant for fun against them. Matthew Mitchell's dancing would not seem nearly as cool nor his cutting up on his coach's TV show nearly as funny had he not already become the all-time winningest coach in UK women's basketball history.
At Big Blue Madness in the past, Mitchell danced "The Dougie," MC Hammer's Can't Touch This and Michael Jackson's Billie Jean.
I opined that he was smart this year to pick Bruno Mars so he could start to transition more into singing, take off some of the pressure of having to come up with new dance routines every year.
"I'm not sure how much pressure that took off, because that was insane to do," Mitchell said, noting he was terrified he would begin his vocals by singing off key.
If Louisville's Walz intended his comments on Mitchell's dancing as a zinger, the UK coach said he gets it.
"Look, I'd make fun (of another coach dancing), too," Mitchell said. "It's very, very embarrassing. It's grown into something that is out of control, so I don't blame Jeff for making fun — if that's what he was doing."
Suffice to say, when UK started the tradition of a season-opening Madness way back in 1982, Joe B. Hall did not bust some dance moves to Olivia Newton-John's Physical.
Said Mitchell: "Kyle Macy had the best line ever when I did (the) Michael Jackson (dance). ... After I finished, Kyle said 'You think Joe B. ever thought (Madness) would come to this?' Right there, no more appropriate words have ever been spoken. Because, really, did Joe B. ever think Madness would come to this?"