A little more than half of the 31 straight losses that Kentucky had suffered to Florida happened during Mitch Barnhart’s time as athletics director.
In his 16-year tenure, Barnhart has been on the sideline consoling players and coaches after blowouts and heart-breakers.
He spent much of Kentucky’s 27-16 upset win over No. 25 Florida on Saturday night in the athletics director’s box high above Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Anxiously, Barnhart moved down to the tunnel that leads UK players to their locker room for the final quarter. From there he witnessed the streak end and saw pure joy from the players, coaches and nearby fans.
Barnhart thought back to all of those players who had fallen to the Gators before.
“To get this one off the list and be able to not talk about it anymore and for our players to not have to talk about it” is huge, the UK administrator told a small group of media after the victory.
“You think back even since I’ve been here to the different moments where it looked like it was in our grasp and it drifted away. We’ve had some good football teams here that played them really hard and just never seemed to go our way.”
Both Barnhart and head coach Mark Stoops called the end of the streak and the 2-0 start to the season an important stepping-stone for the program.
“It’s a big piece,” Stoops said later. “You’ve heard me talk about knocking down doors. Well, this is a big one to knock down this door. We did it the right way by being a good, hard-nosed, tough football team.”
Getting the victory without tricks and gadget plays, with just aggressive, physical football is a sign of a program on the rise, they said.
“If you heard two things in the locker room tonight it was we’ve got a good football team and the other thing you heard a lot in there was we’ve got 10 more games, we’re not done,” Barnhart said, adding later that he hoped it was 11 more games.
“I was encouraged by both those. It wasn’t like we won the whole thing. They were very focused. Happy? Absolutely. They had a good time, but they were able to put it in perspective and move on.”
The celebration lasted late into Sunday morning and likely will continue into the evening, but the lasting message after the victory was that UK has bigger goals than just snapping streaks.
“It’s only two games,” Stoops said. “You can’t ever get too far ahead of yourself. Just like if we’d come out on the wrong end, you can’t be too low. It’s a long season. But it is a step. You know that and I know that.”