UK women’s basketball fans worried that the Wildcats’ recent success might lead head coach Matthew Mitchell to take a different job received some assurances to the contrary Thursday.
Mitchell and UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart announced a new seven-year contract that will keep Mitchell as the UK women’s basketball head coach until 2019.
The contract will pay Mitchell $525,000 for the 2012-13 season with the salary increasing annually to $575,000, $725,000, $775,000 and no less than $825,000 in the final three years of the contract. Mitchell will also receive $375,000 per year for broadcasting and endorsement deals.
“He has high expectations for everybody, not the least of which himself,” Barnhart said of Mitchell. “He expects great things. That’s why you want him leading your program.”
Mitchell said he constantly hears from fans telling him they hoped he would stay at UK and not take what might be perceived as a better job.
“That always kind of struck me as funny,” he said. “Because of what Mitch Barnhart has done, what all the players have done, for any coach in America, Kentucky would be a great job. For Matthew Mitchell, Jenna Mitchell and our family it is the best job, the best job in the country to have.”
Barnhart said he is used to those same type of questions about UK’s successful coaches and the new contract represents a commitment to Mitchell’s family as well as a fulfillment on his promise to keep the Wildcats’ best coaches in Lexington.
“I wanted to change this from a transition school to a destination school, a place that people want to stay,” he said. “That’s been our goal all along. If we truly want to do that, and we truly start having success, then we truly better start taking care of our people.’”
In five seasons as the UK head coach, Mitchell has compiled a 114-56 record and led the Wildcats to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in school history. He already ranks No. 3 in all-time wins at Kentucky with and is the second fastest coach in program history to reach 100 victories.
The Wildcats are coming off one of the best season in program history with a 28-7 overall record, including an 18-0 mark at home, and an appearance in the Elite Eight for the second time in three years. The Wildcats won their first Southeastern Conference regular season championship since 1982 with a school-record 13-3 mark in league play. The 28 wins tied the school record set in 2009-10, and the No. 8 ranking in the final USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll was the highest finish in school history.
“Today wouldn’t have been possible without a bunch of kids really, really working hard and giving everything they’ve had,” Mitchell said. “I just want to thank every player that’s played here in the last five years.”
Women’s basketball is not a revenue-producing sport at UK, but Barnhart said he felt it was still important to make a major investment in the program to demonstrate the school’s commitment to women’s athletics.
“I have two daughters,” Barnhart said. “They both had opportunities to play athletics. I want women to have opportunities to play. I want them to have a chance to play at a high level. I want them to have a chance to play in front of fans and on TV. In order to do that at a high level, we will invest in that.”
The new contract is one step to ending those questions about whether he will eventually leave for another job, Mitchell said.
“I’m trying to get the point across that we have been to two Elite Eights in the past three years, we are recruiting at the highest level in the country, we have some of the best players in the country interested in Kentucky and we have some of the most talented assistant coaches in the country,” he said. “This is an incredible thing that is happening, and when you look around there are not many places better than this.
“We can compete at the highest level, you can win a national championship, win an SEC championship and all the competitive things that a coach wants to do are available. Then you have this added bonus of being around such special people and such a special community. There may be some coaches out there chasing some different things, but that’s how I would answer anyone who was cynical and asking whether we want to be here.”
KyForward file photo