Well done, Mitch Barnhart.
Not only do you have your university in the running for the Capital One Cup, but you’ve just secured the job of one of the school’s most talented coaches in Matthew Mitchell. As Drew told you earlier, Mitchell received a new contract today that will make him the highest-paid women’s basketball coach in the SEC. Over the next seven years, he’ll earn a minimum of $7.95 million, with a boatload of incentives, including a $250,000 retention bonus if Mitchell stays at UK through the end of his contract, a base salary of $525,000 starting next season, and $375,000 in media and endorsements. That’s a far cry from Mitchell’s salary when he started at Kentucky n 2007 ($150,000 base, $100,000 in media/endorsements). And then, there’s an additional $1.3 million Mitchell can earn in performance-based incentives (titles, honors, and GPAs). Needless to say, boy got paid today, and it is well-deserved.
Despite UK Hoops’ huge success over the past few seasons, women’s athletics still has its share of detractors, who claim that it’s a waste of money and university efforts. Mitch Barnhart’s actions to keep Coach Mitchell in Lexington blow that fallacy out of the water. When asked how he justifies spending so much money on sports that lose money, Barnhart spoke the plain truth: “We’ve only got two programs here that make money.” In fact, he said that the point of Mitchell’s contact was to show the university’s commitment to women’s sports, not revenue. It’s an issue that hits close to home for Barnhart, whose two daughters want to play sports at a high level one day: “I want women to have opportunities to play at a high level. We were willing to invest in that.” (All the ladies in the house say “yeaaaaaah.”)
Mitchell’s new contract is a reward years in the making; he has taken a program that was an afterthought to fans and competitors and reshaped it into a legitimate contender. By tapping into the Big Blue Nation’s thirst for all things basketball with charisma, charm, and the Dougie heard ’round the Bluegrass, Mitchell put UK Hoops on the map. In return, by giving him the payday he deserves, Mitch Barnhart is making sure it stays that way.
More proof that Mitchell gets it? He’s donating $100,000 of his new money back to the university for academic purposes. Mitchell said it was his way of giving back to the university and showing the administration that “we’re partners here.” When the great Pat Summitt announced her retirement a few weeks ago, I know I wasn’t the only one slightly worried that Mitchell may grab that old brass ring. It would have been a natural move: Mitchell was a graduate assistant at Tennessee, is spoken of highly by Summitt, and the UT program is the elite of the sport. Yet, today Mitchell assured fans that he and his family were Wildcats through and through: “One of the most special things about Kentucky is the people that support the university, and that is the Big Blue Nation.” Showing just how much the program has grown under his watch, Mitchell said fans come up to him all the time and tell him they want him to stick around, and that is proof that his job “is the best job in the country to have.”