Less than five months before his time as University of Kentucky president ends, Lee T. Todd Jr. announced Wednesday that he had given Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart a contract extension and six-figure salary increase.
When asked if the decision might adversely impact the pool of candidates to become UK's next president, Todd bristled.
"Absolutely not," he said. "I'm doing a heck of a favor for the next person to be president of this university. And don't you think I'm not."
Ironically, Barnhart dismissed several administrators in UK's athletic department in order to bring in his own people when he arrived nine years ago. Todd denied that the new contract, which added three years and boosted Barnhart's annual pay from $475,000 to $600,000, would hinder the new president from enjoying the same privilege.
Instead, Todd described Barnhart's extension through June 30, 2019, as a gift to the new president.
"I'll tell you with every beat in my heart, this is a positive for the next president of this university," Todd said.
Later in the 50-minute news conference, Todd steered the give-and-take with reporters back to his view that the new contract would benefit UK's next president. He noted the stability that comes with Barnhart in place.
"(Barnhart's) staff is known to be one of the most professional staffs in the country," Todd said, "and they do a tremendous job."
In a release announcing the new contract, Todd said he was rewarding Barnhart for "exemplary performance" as UK's director of athletics.
The list of highlights included:
■ UK being one of only 14 athletic departments in the country that is financially self-sufficient.
■ UK's standing in the Directors' Cup was 29th in 2009-10, the department's best finish since 1997-98 (The Directors' Cup goes to the school whose athletic teams post the strongest combined performance in a given year).
■ The athletes' overall grade-point average for the 2010 spring semester was 3.04, the best in "several years."
■ UK joining Vanderbilt as the only schools in the Southeastern Conference who have not had an athletic team penalized because of shortcomings in the Academic Progress Rate.
■ For the first time, all 22 varsity sports funded the maximum number of scholarships.
■ Creation of the UK Athletics Hall of Fame.
■ Annual donations to the school increased from $1.2 to $1.7 million in 2009-10.
"Of all the people I've hired in my life — and I've had quite a few — the gentleman to my right (Barnhart) is the one I'm most proud of," Todd said. "... He's always on top of whatever the issues are and always recommends the right decision."
The new contract does not need rubber-stamping by the UK Board of Trustees nor the UK Athletics Association Board of Directors. Spokesman Jay Blanton said the UK president has the authority to unilaterally negotiate contracts with staffers such as the athletics director.
Barnhart, 51, noted how he'd pondered opportunities in non-athletic fields. He said speculation about his interest in returning to his native Kansas last year as University of Kansas athletics director had been overblown.
As Todd noted, the new contract reflects Barnhart's desire to continue leading UK athletics.
Todd's impending retirement caused Barnhart to think of his own career path.
"The one thing that hit me as Dr. Todd began to think of his departure is that I'm not done here yet," Barnhart said. "I want to finish some stuff."
Several coaches, including Joker Phillips, were in the room as Todd and Barnhart spoke of the new contract.
Phillips called Barnhart "a great A.D., period."
During his day-before-the-game news conference, UK women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell saluted Barnhart.
"For me personally, it's a great comfort to have Mr. Barnhart here as athletic director," Mitchell said. "I share his passion for Kentucky and I share his vision for what the athletic program can be — in particular women's basketball. You just could not work for a person who cares more about student-athletes and in particular giving women's basketball what we need to compete in the Southeastern Conference.
"I was very happy that Dr. Todd made that announcement today and we're excited about the future here for Kentucky athletics."
UK men's basketball John Calipari did not attend the news conference. He was out of town recruiting.
"On behalf of the UK basketball program I want to congratulate Connie and Mitch Barnhart on his well-deserved extension," Calipari said in a statement. "It's been a pleasure to work with Mitch and his dedicated staff over these two seasons, and to know he will be around for the foreseeable future gives us all great comfort. We look forward to keeping UK basketball and the entire department as the gold standard in college athletics."
Barnhart expressed his hope to lead UK athletics as a whole to unprecedented heights.
"I don't think we've finished the deal," he said, "and I want to finish the deal. I want to make sure when we leave that there is no doubt — there's no doubt in my mind now — that we left it better.
"If we left it today, it would be better than when we came in. But I want there to be no doubt."