UK Women's Basketball

Kentucky signs new deal with Mitchell that puts strong emphasis on deep NCAA Tournament run

Kentucky Wildcats head coach Matthew Mitchell and the team celebrate after defeating the Evansville Lady Aces 100-62 at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, on Tuesday, December 5, 2017.
Kentucky Wildcats head coach Matthew Mitchell and the team celebrate after defeating the Evansville Lady Aces 100-62 at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, on Tuesday, December 5, 2017.

For the past few years, Kentucky’s contract with Matthew Mitchell has included added incentives for conference titles, national coaching accolades and trips to the NCAA Tournament.

In the newly signed deal between Mitchell and UK, which was released to the Herald-Leader on Thursday after an open records request, all of those incentives are gone.

They have been merged and now are almost solely based on how Kentucky performs in the NCAA Tournament.

“There’s an expectation of a certain level of consistent performance,” Mitchell said of the new contract during a Thursday news conference ahead of the team’s two game road-swing beginning Friday night at Florida Gulf Coast. It keeps him at Kentucky through 2022 and will pay him a total compensation package worth about $1.26 million next season (before those tournament bonuses).

For the Cats’ all-time winningest coach, there is $500,000 if he wins a national championship. A trip to the Final Four, which has eluded Mitchell in his 11 seasons as head coach, would pay him $400,000.

A trip to the Elite Eight equals a $250,000 bonus. The Cats have advanced to that round three times under Mitchell, but not since the 2012-13 season.

“If we’re outstanding and excellent and make the Elite Eight and Final Four, win a national championship, that’s unbelievable incentive for us to achieve that and I think that’s fantastic,” Mitchell said of the new clauses, which are not cumulative.

He added: With “what they’re paying me, we need to be really good year in and year out in the NCAA Tournament and competing for conference championships.”

Mitchell’s new contract, which went into effect on Dec. 1, pays him the same base salary as his previous deal ($825,000) but the big money comes for the coach in his broadcast and endorsement deals.

Per that portion of his new contract, Mitchell will receive a 5 percent increase for each year starting next year and running through 2022.

So, for this season, the longtime coach will receive an additional $217,500 for the period from Oct. 1 to March 30, 2018.

Next year’s full season broadcast/endorsement deal payout will be $498,000. And by the end of the contract on March 30, 2022, Mitchell will receive an additional $706,538 on top of his annual base salary.

The contract also calls for Mitchell to receive a $25,000 bonus if his team achieves a .985 or higher on its academic progress report. Last season, the Cats charted a .991.

“I’m grateful. I’m just extremely grateful in so many ways,” Mitchell said. “I love Kentucky. I cannot imagine any other place to be. I don’t want to be any other place. I’m so grateful that they want me here.”

The Cats coach hadn’t received a new contract or had any type of addendum since 2012 when he signed a seven-year deal shortly after UK won its lone Southeastern Conference regular-season title under Mitchell.

Getting past 2016

It was a difficult 2016 for Mitchell and the Kentucky program, which saw seven players part ways, including five transfers, one graduate transfer and a player who was dismissed.

The 2016 signees all opted out of their national letters of intent. Several big-name 2017 commitments also decided to look elsewhere as the turbulence swirled.

All three assistant coaches went their separate ways, with two opting not to renew their contracts with UK and a third being fired.

Only five players returned from that team decimated by departures: guards Makayla Epps, Maci Morris, Taylor Murray and forwards Evelyn Akhator and Alyssa Rice. He thanked them and their families for working through the difficulties.

Mitchell expressed gratitude to UK President Eli Capilouto, whom he called a “mentor and friend,” and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart for their “unwavering support” during that tumult.

The coach also said he’d been thinking a lot lately about the players who transferred.

“I’m really grateful to all the players and all the lessons I’ve learned,” Mitchell said. “I wish I could’ve learned them in a different way. … I can look at each and every one of those kids — and I hope they’re thriving — but I’ve learned a lot of lessons that are going to help me be a better coach going forward.”

Mitchell’s previous contract called for a “market analysis” of the salaries of the top eight women’s basketball coaches in the country to determine any salary bump he should receive.

Both Barnhart and Mitchell put that analysis on hold at the time.

In a statement released to the Herald-Leader from Barnhart, he said he was “thrilled” that Mitchell and his family would “be with us for years to come.

“Matthew embodies our guiding principles of character, integrity, education, stewardship and competitiveness,” Barnhart said. “I appreciate his loyalty to our university and his singular commitment to the development of the women who play for him as both people and players.

“Their achievements on and off the court have been a pleasure to watch this last decade-plus.”

At UK, Mitchell has a record of 249-101, including a 22-11 season last year that ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. UK finished 11-5 in the conference, tied for third overall.

Five of Mitchell’s players have been picked in the WNBA Draft, including three in the first round, including Akhator, who was selected third overall by the Dallas Wings in 2017, making her the highest draft pick in school history.

“I’ll be here as long as they want me to be here and I’m really, really grateful to the University of Kentucky that they would allow me to stay on and continue to coach here,” Mitchell said on Thursday.

While there are no comprehensive databases of women’s college basketball coaching salaries, a partnership between USA Today and an organization called “AthleticDirectorU” looked at compensation for coaches in the Power Five conferences.

Mitchell’s salary is among the top 10 in that group. Kim Mulkey makes a reported $1.88 million at Baylor, followed by Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw, who has a total compensation package of $1.37 million. Jeff Walz of Louisville is third, listed at nearly $1.28 million.

Shortly after winning the program’s first national title in 2017, South Carolina’s Dawn Staley was awarded a new deal running through 2024-25. She became the highest paid women’s basketball coach in the SEC, making $1.45 million this season.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader


Kentucky at Florida Gulf Coast

When: 7 p.m. (WatchESPN)