Barnhart: Plenty of unfinished business at UK

Joker Phillips, left, was congratulated by Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and UK President Lee Todd, right, after the Cats' 23-16 win over U of L at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium Sept. 4.
Joker Phillips, left, was congratulated by Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and UK President Lee Todd, right, after the Cats' 23-16 win over U of L at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium Sept. 4.

University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart was rumored last month to be a finalist for the same job at the University of Kansas.

That position has not been filled yet, but Barnhart stated during a one-on-one interview Tuesday that he will not be going to Kansas and plans to stay at UK for the long haul.

Barnhart said he hasn't been officially contacted by Kansas. Even if that were to happen, he said he will remain committed to UK.

Barnhart cited several factors as to why he would stay in Lexington.

No. 1, his son Scott will be a senior at Lexington Christian Academy next year and is a golfer on the defending state champions. Secondly, Barnhart said he cherishes the relationships that he's built with the athletes and coaches at UK. Also, Barnhart is vowing to stay on course with a facilities push that includes renovations to Commonwealth Stadium, upgrades for the baseball program, and the possibility of a new downtown arena for basketball.

"There have been a lot of rumblings about places that I'm going," Barnhart said. "We've come to a spot in nine years. I think we can get to another spot moving forward. I like what I'm doing here."

The 51-year-old Barnhart is in his ninth year at UK and is the fourth-longest tenured athletics director in the Southeastern Conference. Barnhart admits the job has been tough at times. And the president who hired him, Dr. Lee T. Todd Jr., is retiring on June 30, 2011. But Barnhart said he still has unfinished business in Lexington.

"I think there's a timeline for all these kinds of jobs," Barnhart said. "But my goal when I leave is to have left it clearly better than what we found it; competitively in a better spot, and a facility infrastructure that the person that follows me can walk in and enjoy and being able to capitalize on those pieces and have a different level of success. We're not done with that yet."

Barnhart has developed UK's non-revenue sports and has made some sound coaching hires, but the A.D. realizes that he hasn't always generated a high approval rating from fans and media.

"I know there's a lot of folks that would say, 'Please go,'" Barnhart said.

Barnhart said a lot of the criticism is a result of misconceptions.

"Every once in a while it stings; I can't lie," Barnhart said. "But the people that say it the most are the people that don't know you at all.

"The people that write or say the nastiest stuff about me have spent the least bit of time with me. Either they don't want to take the time to get to know you, or they say what they hear. They don't know. They don't have a clue as to what I'm about."

Barnhart said he continued to lean on Todd as the Kansas rumors swirled.

"He's clearly a president I have a lot of admiration for," Barnhart said. "I trust him. We've been through a lot together."

Barnhart has been accused of being uncomfortable or awkward in social settings. Barnhart disputes that notion.

"The problem is I don't go to all the places that certain people want me to go," Barnhart said. "And because I don't go all the places they want me to go, now I'm shy. I'm not shy or uncomfortable. Trust me.

"Come to some of the places I go. We'll see how comfortable you are. I just choose to spend my time in places that other folks might not want to go."

Barnhart said he did have an enlightening experience while watching the Kentucky basketball team compete in the Maui Invitational.

"There were a good chunk of fans that I had never met before," Barnhart said. "They came from places all over. And we were standing in the hotel and there were rumors of me going someplace and people came over and said, 'We really hope you stay. We appreciate what you've done.' And that made you feel OK. I don't need everybody to walk around and tell me I'm OK, but every once in a while to hear 'Thanks,' you do appreciate that."

With the Kansas talk out of the way, Barnhart said he will remain focused on the task at hand, which is to upgrade UK's facilities and remain a central figure in the lives of the student-athletes.

"I would hope that our athletes and our coaches appreciate what we've tried to do," he said. "If I get to the spot to where I think I can't be effective, I'll go do something else. The thing I enjoy the most is the day-to-day competing with our teams. I never lose sight of that.

"We're helping young people move from one spot to another; we're graduating kids. When the enjoyment of that ceases, then it'll be time to find something else to do."