Transcript of press conference introducing Nick Mingione as UK’s new baseball coach:
MITCH BARNHART: Thanks for everybody coming this afternoon. We know it’s late in the afternoon. Everybody has lots to do, so you’re taking time out of your day to come. We really appreciate it. We’ll get to the introduction of our new baseball coach. The process, it unfolded a few weeks ago when Gary Henderson called and said he was going to resign the position to be our head baseball coach. I got a call when I was in Florida at the SEC meetings. We began a search very quickly. Our goal at the end of the day was to be efficient and to be as quick as we could, but to be efficient.
I worked with Kevin Saal and DeWayne Peevy. We quickly put together a list of folks we thought would be interesting to talk to about our job at Kentucky. The list quickly grew. There were 51 names within a three day stretch of people that had shown interest in our job at Kentucky. It’s a Southeastern Conference job. It is one that people realize the potential of what goes on at the University of Kentucky in so many different ways. So it was a very popular position right out of the chute.
Then you begin to identify the things that you want in your head coach and who is going to lead your program. You look around. You look at the attributes that have been successful here at the University of Kentucky for some of our head coaches. They come in a variety of ways. There’s no one size fits all. The underlying things that we look for are people of character, people that make great heart decisions, people that have integrity, that will abide by the rules, lead this program with great integrity, whether it’s the Southeastern Conference rules, the NCAA rules, the university’s rules, treating people the right way.
We want people to be educated. We want people to be good learners, whether that is on the field of play in terms of baseball or whether that means in the classroom, just the way they conduct themselves and their craft. We want them to be good stewards of what they’ve been given and understand the responsibility that goes with that.
Then the last thing, if we do those things in the process, we talk about it frequently, we should want to win. It should be a priority for us and we shouldn’t be ashamed to want to go do that. That’s a part of it. If we lose, we lose with honor and manage ourselves the right way.
That’s what we looked for. If you begin to have those conversations with people across the country, you look for people that are involved in college baseball, and you’ve been in our league for a period of time, there’s a few folks that sort of have an eye for the landscape. You begin to have those conversations.
One name kept coming up at the top of that list time and time again.
If you think about passion, competitiveness, effort, integrity, character, people that are good stewards, people that are learners, that was Nick over and over. It’s not irony. It’s not coincidence. Ten years ago we enjoyed a relationship getting to know Nick before he went to go to Mississippi State.
So to have him here today is a great honor for us. I would like to welcome Christen and Reeves into the family. And Randy, his in laws, we’re so honored you’re here with us today. We appreciate it very, very much.
We knew from the time that Nick was with us that one day he would be in this spot. The hardest thing for someone that’s getting older like me is to think of people differently, whether it’s my own children or people that have been at our staff from 10, 12 years ago. Sometimes I think of them as they came into our program. They go away from you for a period of time. You have to think, ‘What has a decade done to them?’ Then you begin to look at their résumé, what they’ve accomplished, the success they’ve had.
Well, I won’t say it’s overwhelming, but it’s impressive, what Nick has done. Whether that’s a couple conference championships, one here and one at Mississippi State, whether it’s a tournament championship, whether it’s a College World Series appearance, players of the year - developed, freshmen of the year - developed. It speaks volumes about his desire to pour into young people at a high level. So it is a real pleasure to have him here doing that with us.
Make no mistake about it. We understand that Major League Baseball is a part of the game that we play. All of our athletes come here looking to move to the next level. I’m for that. We all want them to be able to pursue that. At the end of the day, at this place, it will be about the name on the front of the jersey first. I don’t think anyone understands better than Nick.
The relationship he has with our players will be a passionate one, an intense one, and a fun one. I look forward to the things we’ll develop on the field of play. That will be important for Kentucky.
It is absolutely with great pride and great enjoyment as I see a young guy to my left that has pursued the dream of being a college baseball coach. When you look at the way he began his career, the things that he has done, the sacrifices he has made personally, to have him sitting here as our head baseball coach is a real joy, a real honor, and I’m looking forward to all the things he will do at Kentucky.
Let me stop and introduce the head baseball coach at the University of Kentucky, Nick Mingione.
COACH MINGIONE: So it was almost 11 years ago, almost to the day, I had never been on the campus of the University of Kentucky. I moved up here from Daytona Beach, Florida. Everything I owned was in my vehicle. I left a great program at Embry Riddle where I played and coached. Everything I had was in this vehicle.
I drove up on the campus, saw the most beautiful green grass I’ve ever seen, so much green grass. Saw the beautiful campus. Went and saw the field. It was at that moment that I thought to myself, ‘I want to call this place home.’ There was no doubt in my mind that this was a place that you could win at.
I’m just so excited to be back, to be the head baseball coach here because it was a dream of mine almost 11 years ago. So to be here in front of everybody, I’m really excited.
Appreciation is something that’s really, really important to me, so much so that we’ll have our players write letters of appreciation on a regular basis thanking people that helped them get where they are today.
With that I have a bunch of people I’m going to thank. There’s no way I can thank everybody that’s had an imprint on my life.
First and foremost I want to thank President Capilouto for the opportunity.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is: Everything rises and falls on leadership. It’s by John Maxwell. I believe that with all my heart.
There is no doubt this department is in the position it is in, has developed great student athletes, people that have gone on and moved to different things because of Mitch Barnhart. I believe that with my heart.
Mitch, thank you for entrusting me with your baseball program. It means a great deal. I know Mitch’s heart. I wouldn’t just go work for anybody.
I’m a lot like him from the standpoint he mentioned substance, that’s really important to me. It’s important to me in the recruiting process and everywhere else. So thank you.
There’s been a family that I’ve been with for over 10 years, the Cohen family. John Cohen, Nelle Cohen, Jordan Cohen and Avery Cohen. They have basically brought me in and made me a part of their family. Any time you spend as much time doing what we do to try to win at the highest level, and our goal is to win a national championship, that’s the goal here, when you spend that much time, you become an extension of one another.
What John Cohen, Nelle, Jordan, Avery have meant to me, it’s just been remarkable. I can never thank that family enough for believing in me, for giving me opportunity after opportunity - to coach and his family, thank you.
To my amazing wife, Christen, who is here. A coach’s wife is not an easy job, especially to be the wife of Nick Mingione, right? She has been by my side since day one. She understands my passion for developing and maintaining relationships and ultimately developing young men. She is right there with me and allows me that opportunity.
There’s no secret. Some of you have maybe read some articles. I grew up poor. It wasn’t because my parents didn’t work hard. That was not the case at all. My parents are two of the hardest working people I’ve ever met in my life. I remember as a kid every single morning waking up and my dad not there, asking my mom, ‘Where is he?’
‘He’s at work.’
I remember my mom at times having three jobs.
We may not have had money, but it’s not because my parents did not work hard. My parents have been an amazing support for me. I cannot thank my parents enough.
Family is extremely important to me. We will have a family atmosphere in our baseball program. I need to be able look every parent and every recruit in the eye and they need to know how important family is to me because it is.
I have two brothers and a sister, Eric, Joe, and Amanda, I thank them for their endless support. From the time I was 12 years old, believe it or not, my coaches in little league called me ‘Coach’. I have known my entire life this is what I wanted to do. To my brothers and sister, thank you.
To my mother and father in law, Randy and Ida Reeves, number one, allowing me to marry their amazing daughter, but thank you for your support.
My two coaches in college have made major impacts on my life, Greg and Todd Williams. They gave the skinny guy from southwest Florida who used to sprint on and off the field an opportunity to play college baseball, then they gave me the opportunity to be a college baseball coach. I can never repay them.
Then all the former players, coaches, student managers, grounds crew, administration, support staff that have basically put their fingerprint on my life, I cannot thank you enough.
This place holds a special place in my heart. This is unbelievable. Mitch was laughing at me on the plane. But my phone has not stopped since this broke yesterday. I now have 537 unanswered text messages. That’s not counting the ones I’ve gotten to.
Relationships are important to me. I want to have great relationships with everybody associated with the program. I do want to build. I will never forget being in Athens, Georgia, in 2006, watching our guys dog pile and win the Southeastern Conference championship. I will never forget that. It’s our goal. It’s my goal to make sure that happens again.
I’ll never forget the community rallying behind our young men, all the stands, seeing The Cliff packed, having this amazing atmosphere. I’m asking everyone in the community right now to help create that same atmosphere. We will do our part. I’m asking you for your help.
Quick story about me. I believe in development. I believe you have to win at all areas of your life. Growing up the way that I grew up has helped me become the man I am.
Quick story. We were in Starkville, Mississippi. It was Saturday. We were getting ready for our Super Regional game. Standing above our dugout were two kids. Having been there for eight years, this boy was now 13 years old. I asked him, ‘How old are you now?’
He said, ‘13, coach.’
‘I cannot believe how big you’ve gotten.’
I said, ‘How did you do in school this year?’
He said, ‘Coach, I got straight As.’
I did the little fist pump through the net.
I said, ‘Can you tell me why it’s important to get straight As? Why is it important to get good grades?’
He was not ready for that question.
I said, ‘It’s because you want to be great in all areas of your life. I know how much you love baseball. But you can’t be just a great baseball player. You’ve got to be a great son. You have to be a great teammate. You have to be a great student. You have to be a great baseball player.’
I tell you that because when we wrapped up, I asked him, I said, ‘You got to dominate in all areas of your life. You can’t be one dimensional.’
I had him repeat back to me, ‘What did I just teach you?’
He said, ‘I’ve got to be a great son, I’ve got to be a great student, I’ve got to be a great teammate.’
I said, ‘You’ve got it. You got it. Can you do all that and still get straight As?’
‘Oh, yeah, I can do that.’
I say that because development is extremely important to me. I believe in developing the student, the person and the player. It was really neat.
My wife has so many great blessings. One of her blessings is she can do a lot of research. She’s not afraid to look through information. She gets online. She was so excited because a lot of the same things that Mitch believed in were some of the same things we believed in.
My team GPA, our goal will be a 3.0. That will be the floor. That’s the lowest we want our team GPA to be. Christen pointed out to me, Mitch shares those same thoughts.
I mentioned appreciation letters. Our guys have to write appreciation letters. Our kids will give back to our community.
Mitch mentioned UK, the name on the front is most important. He’s exactly right. We’re going to develop relationships that way. They’re going to get the chance to impact young men and young kids’ lives. We are going to have our guys do community service. Our schedules are tough, don’t have a ton of time, but if we have to make time, we’ll make time for that.
The last piece for me is player development. During the recruiting process, I’ll have a series of questions that I’ll sit down and ask players to try to figure out what their goals are. One of my questions is, ‘What is your long term baseball goal?’ I don’t care if the guy throws 95 with a good breaking ball, if he doesn’t want to play in the big leagues, I’m not so sure he would fit in our system. We want guys that it’s so important to them with the understanding they have to be good people and good students.
Came from a place where we just had 11 draft picks. All 11 guys either improved their draft status or were never drafted before. Our players need to know I share that passion. We’ll come up with creative ways to make them better every day, whether it be to the way we stretch, to the way we warm up, to the way we play catch, batting practice. It will be fun, but they’re going to be better, because that’s demanded, especially to be at this level.
A winning culture is something that’s really important to me. I want to create a culture where we will mention Omaha daily. My wife has an amazing sense of direction. I need a GPS for every single turn. I lived here two years, no way I remember how to get around. We need to mention, I’m one of these people that needs to know when I show up every day, I need to have a plan. Our players need to understand. We will mention Omaha on a daily basis. We’re trying to get to Omaha. If you get to Omaha, you have a chance to win a national championship.
Another part of a winning culture is we have to create a winning environment. Our players have to show up every single day knowing they’ll be challenged. Yes, it will be fun, but it won’t be fun sometimes. They have to show up with a coachable spirit, have an attitude of learning, growing and improving every single day. Every single day they show up hoping we’ll be able to create this environment, and we will create this environment.
I think the greatest leaders recognize effort and reward performance. Our players every single day will have an opportunity to compete in front of our coaching staff and earn their playing time. It doesn’t matter to me what you did a year ago. It doesn’t matter to me what you did the day before. Every day is a new opportunity. And victory has to be earned every single day. We’ll create our practices and we’ll create an environment where our guys can do that.
With that comes accountability. The same way I am accountable, we’ll hold our guys to that accountability. We’re going to ask our players to play with great, positive energy, to play with passion, as Mitch mentioned, and to play with brains and guts. You’ve got to have both. You’ve got to have brains and guts to succeed in this league, and we’re going to ask our players to do that.
One of the things Coach Cohen has complimented me over the years, ‘Nick, you don’t have bad days, man. You don’t have bad days.’
One of the ways I’ve been able to do that, any time I have a negative thought, I immediately try to replace it with a positive one.
We’re going to ask our players not to have bad days. Going 0 for-4 with three strikeouts may not be a bad day. There’s a lot of people around this world that are doing things and sacrificing their lives for our freedom. That may not be a bad day. We’re going to grow, learn and improve from it. There will be no bad days tolerated in our program.
Having been in the league for 10 years now, as all of you know, it’s the toughest league in America. Me being in it for the last 10 years, I feel like I have a blueprint of what it takes to succeed, being a part of multiple conference championships at a couple different schools. Whatever there is to accomplish in this league, I feel like I’ve been a part of it. From players of the year, I think I’ve been a part of 189 SEC academic honor roll selections, to playing for a national championship, been a part of it. There’s no doubt in my mind I know what it takes. I know what kind of lineup we need to create, how to put it together, how to win in this league. Having been in this league has helped prepare me for this.
What I’m sitting here trying to build a rotation, how to build our bullpen, how we’re going to try to decide to have our defense set, I’ve seen it, I’ve been a part of it, and there’s nothing like this league.
So during the summer I always find time to go to Major League Baseball games because when you’re in the grind of the Southeastern Conference and you’re doing your 10 straight weeks, you see it every day, you know what it’s supposed to look like. Sometimes during the summer in the recruiting process you can get fooled. I make time every single summer to go and see what it’s supposed to look like. If you can do good here, you can win a national championship here.
With that said, recruiting is extremely important. A lot of our former players were upstairs doing a meet and greet. Awesome to spend time with them. I saw Ryan Strieby there, our 2006 SEC Player of the Year.
I love to tell a story. I was a really good coach when he was hitting. I really knew what I was talking about. It’s fun to see him.
Recruiting, it’s got to be one of the most important, if not the most important part of the program.
We’re going to recruit from the inside out. We’re going to start in Lexington and we’re going to recruit out. This program and this city has amazing baseball players. We will not fill our team with a group of guys just from Lexington, but you have to start in Lexington.
Our 2006 conference championship team had six guys from the city of Lexington. We’ll move out to the surrounding counties and cities, and have done a really good job recruiting all over the country. When you’re at the University of Kentucky, our brand is what it is, you can go wherever. Have contacts in Texas, the South, the Southeast, the North, the Northeast, Midwest, even Canada. We can go wherever. We’re looking for players that want to be here.
Ultimately you win with people. So we’ll be looking for who we are. There’s a lot of really good players out there. Ultimately we have to get who we are. So with that said I’m excited to be back. Thank you for everybody that’s here. Cannot tell you enough again, Mitch, how much I appreciate this opportunity. There’s going to be a lot of work to be done, but I’m definitely not afraid of hard work.
If anybody has any questions, I’d love to answer them.
Q. Mitch, what were your conversations about the facility during the process? Were there any promises made about what the next step there is?
MITCH BARNHART: We’re going to have one. We’re going to have one.
We’re in that process. We have spent about $4 million in design. We’re in it. We’re heavily invested in it. It will go to the Board of Trustees in the fall Trustees meetings. We’ll then hopefully sign the contracts and get going to probably just after the football season ends.
We’re putting the stadium where a parking lot currently is. So we’ll use that through the football season. That will give us time to get the contract signed.
I want to repeat, it’s part of an overarching university plan. The strategic plan has changed a couple times since I’ve been at Kentucky. The initial plan was for the stadium to stay where it was. As time has gone on, that plan has changed a little bit.
So the footprint of the stadium will now be moved to Alumni Drive, above where the soccer stadium is. It will replace the soccer practice field. In its place will go the tennis facility. The tennis facility will move from where it currently is and go to where baseball currently sits. That will free up that entire area for the university to do some things they desire to do, whether that is rec space, parking, green space. It’s part of an overarching master plan of the university. It benefits everybody. It gets us an athletic village on the outside of the perimeter of campus, about 12,000 cars that drive by it every day, which is very helpful to us, especially for the sports that compete outdoors. It gives us a chance to have some parking availability that’s a little tougher for us in the internal part of campus and frees some things up for everyone else. That’s the goal.
It will be about a $45 million facility. We are very close to putting the finishing touches on the design. It has been worked at for a good long time now. I think we’re in a really good spot. We’ve got our funding model in place and we’re ready to go. Just awaiting the final approval of the Trustees in the fall and we’ll take off.
After that it’s about 16 months. Takes about 16 months to finish the product, as soon as we get the first shovel in the ground. That’s where we are.
Q. Nick, what do you know about your roster now? Do you believe you’ll be able to jump right in and be a contend this coming season?
COACH MINGIONE: Sure, so the biggest elephant in the room is the pitching staff, right? We have to replace over 300 innings. That will definitely be a challenge. I’m really excited about this opportunity because I’ve gotten a chance to obviously speak to some of the players, especially some of the ones that are here.
Anytime there’s change, it can be hard for 18 to 22 year olds. It can. I’ll definitely create an environment where the guys can just show up every day and prove with their actions. I think there’s no better time to be a Kentucky Wildcat because there’s a whole new opportunity for everybody.
The biggest elephant in the room right now is the starting pitching, yeah.
Q. Nick, as far as a coaching staff is concerned, do you have a timeframe when you would like to have them in place? Do you have people in mind for those positions?
COACH MINGIONE: Sure, great question. Obviously, not being a sitting head coach, I don’t have a staff. I actually believe in my heart that is going to be a positive. There’s a bunch of different facets that goes into what makes a great coach.
Number one, I’m looking for people that are iron sharpeners and want to develop men. As I’m trying to build my staff, yes, I’ve talked to some people. I’ve had the unique opportunity of watching coaches coach, but also watching guys on the road. Sometimes you learn more about somebody, maybe the way they recruit, how they handle themselves away from the field. Sometimes head coaches don’t go out and recruit as much. I do want to make it known I will spend a lot of time recruiting as the head baseball coach.
But to use Mitch’s terms, I will be efficient. Obviously there’s some things that have to be in place that we’re dealing with the Major League draft. I want to make sure we get the right people. However long that takes it takes, but I’m looking for developers of men.
Q. Coach, it’s a very tough league. This job is considered one of the tougher jobs in the league, if not the toughest job in the league. What do you feel the key is to overcoming that?
COACH MINGIONE: Well, for me, number one, I mentioned it earlier, you got to win with people. I’ve been a part of a championship here. We’ve done it before. The goal is to do it again.
People may say the job’s tough. I’m going to say any job in the Southeastern Conference is tough. Every job has its challenges, right? But this is a place I wanted to be at because I believe in my heart we can win here and we’re going to win here. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have come.
As much as I respect Mitch, and everything we have going on here, if I didn’t feel like we could win, I wouldn’t take that job. Sure, every job has its challenges, but this is a place we can win at and have won at.
Q. Coach, how important to you was a potential facility upgrade? What were your discussions like with Coach Cohen at Mississippi State about taking this job?
COACH MINGIONE: The first part of your question. I learned a long time ago growing up at a young age, I mentioned we maybe didn’t have as much as somebody else, right? I learned a long time ago not to focus on what you don’t have. You will drive yourself crazy if you do that, right?
So the fact that we don’t have a stadium right now, I know there’s plans, but I never want our players to focus on what they don’t have. I want them to count each blessing every single day. The fact that we don’t have a stadium, I think everybody knows that. I’m not going to be the guy or the coach to focus on what we don’t have. I’m going to ask our players every single day to be appreciative of everything we have. There’s a lot of resources here to win. We’ve done that before.
The second part. John Cohen loves this place. He has been like a father figure to me in so many ways. It was funny, Coach Henderson resigned, and coach called me in right away. We spoke about it. But he thinks the world of Mitch. He thinks the world of the people here. He still has a lot of relationships, he and Nelle and Jordan and Avery have a ton of relationships with people in this community, which is an amazing community.
There was no doubt in my mind that, No. 1, he thought I was ready for this and, No. 2, this was a position I needed to take.
Q. What are one or two things that he has passed along to you that you can apply to this job?
COACH MINGIONE: That’s a really good question. Mitch actually asked me that same question in the interview.
There are so many. John Cohen’s brain never stops. He doesn’t stop. His brain is focused on making every part of the program better in every single way. I could pay him so many compliments. I could literally stand up here and talk to you for hours about the type of human being that man is.
But his brain doesn’t stop. He wants to be great in every facet of the program. I’ll take that from him.
Q. Coach Cohen told the story this morning that you briefly lived at the UK baseball facility. Can you explain that a little more, how long that happened?
COACH MINGIONE: Well, coach did mention there might have been a story like that.
I moved up here with my car. As a matter of fact, when I lived in Daytona Beach, I lived on my coach’s couch. But I loved coaching. I knew that I was supposed to be there. I left a job where I had full salaried benefits. I want to say for the first six or seven years of my life, maybe the first six years, I made $36,000 total with no health benefits or insurance, because I have a passion for developing men.
Yeah, when I first got up here, I came straight from the College World Series. We played for a national championship. John Cohen works really fast. His deal was, ‘how fast can you get here?’
When I lived in Daytona, the apartment, I ended up living in an apartment, and I was doing lessons for a guy by the name of Doug, I won’t mention his last name to protect him. But I was working his team out. What I did was eventually I learned that he owned apartment complexes. I worked out a deal with him in Daytona that, maybe instead of you paying me to work with your team, how about you give me an apartment? I worked my rent off.
That year I lost my apartment to a hurricane. Obviously everything in it was given to me. FEMA came along. I had a 17 inch TV. I didn’t know this. When they come in, doesn’t matter if you have a big screen or little one, so I actually made money by losing this apartment. I worked another deal out with one of our player’s parents to trade in my car because I needed a vehicle.
I said, Coach, I got to get a vehicle. My car is not going to make it.
So I loaded up the car. I got the car switched out. I drove to Lexington. Told the story about the first time I rode up on this campus. I didn’t have a place to stay. Coach said, ‘stay with me.’
‘Coach, I’m good.’
I was a little embarrassed to tell him I didn’t have a place. I eventually got a place.
I spent a lot of long nights in the office. We didn’t have a couch. He didn’t have a couch in his office, or I would have slept on that.
I would go over to the locker room. I spent a lot of nights there. I eventually did get a place.
When you talk about this place, coaches, you pour your heart and soul into a place, you spend a ton of time, it means a lot to you. That’s one of the reasons why this place means a lot to me. I spent a lot of long nights here and hours here with a lot of good people.
Q. As far as the recruiting class that’s already signed, have you spoken to those guys? With the MLB draft, they have a choice to make. What is your best pitch to them as to why they should come to Kentucky?
COACH MINGIONE: Good question. We want every one of our commitments to have a passion to play in the big leagues as I mentioned earlier.
This is a special place. What I need to explain to them is, There’s a time and place for the draft. Unfortunately, every kid at some point has to put a dollar figure on what they’re willing to sign for and what they’re not. I need to get in their homes and in front of their parents to start to build a relationship. They need to know how much me and my coaching staff will pour into them as players and as people.
Sometimes guys have numbers set. You can talk them off the numbers, sometimes you can’t. I think only time will tell with that piece.
Can I just make one more comment before we go?
I wanted to make sure before I left that everybody knew how highly I think of Gary Henderson. I think extremely highly of him, his wife Vicki, their sons Alex and Ty. They are special people. I still have a relationship.
As a matter of fact, when our son Reeves was born, they sent a generous gift to help get his academic career started. They’re good people. I saved him for last because he means a lot to me. He’s a great human being. What he has done for this program should not be unnoticed because not only is he a great coach but he’s a special human being.
Again, appreciate you all being here. For those of you that I don’t know, I look forward to getting to know you and continue relationships, which is something that’s really important to me.
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