This morning, Mitch Barnhart sat down with Matt for his first radio interview since hiring Mark Stoops. Barnhart opened up about the decision, including the moment he knew it was time to make a change, the qualities he looked for in a new coach, and what’s next for the football program. Here are the highlights of the conversation:
— Mitch said that he knew for certain that it was time for change after the 40-0 loss to Vanderbilt on November 3rd: “At that point, the disintegration of the fan support became difficult for us to manage in terms of finances and the program. It became apparent after the Vandy game that we were not goign to get to a spot that we wanted to get to emotionally, and we had to move on.”
— Mitch began the search by confiding in DeWayne Peevy, Mark Hill (executive associate athletic director, formerly the strength coach), and President Capilouto. The criteria?
1) Defensive improvement — “You will not continually outscore people in this league. At the end of the day, you have to play some defense.”
2) Recruiting — Mitch cited Ohio and Florida as recruiting areas the program wants to expand in, and said they considered candidates’ connections in those areas.
3) Genuine interest in the program — “I wanted someone who wasn’t going to play games with Kentucky.”
— From there, Barnhart had a list of six interested candidates, including Mark Stoops. After seeing that Florida State had a Thursday night game against Virginia Tech on November 8th, Barnhart contacted Stoops to see if he would be interested in meeting in Atlanta the weekend between the basketball team’s games against Maryland and Duke. The two met Saturday morning, and Stoops came with a plan for how Kentucky could succeed in the SEC. Mitch said Stoops did his research on the program, including depth charts, stats, etc. However, maybe the most impressive thing that Stoops did was show a genuine interest in the university, telling Mitch “you’re the school I’m focused on.”
— After the meeting, Stoops continued to “recruit Kentucky.” Barnhart said that Stoops would often text him after men’s basketball and women’s basketball victories and that every time they talked, Stoops “always had a line” to end the conversation, including “I’ve got G and I’m sitting on O. Let’s go!”
— It worked. Mitch decided to go with Stoops the weekend before the announcement.
— On Bobby Petrino: “Coach Petrino is a good football coach, no question about that…that was not a path I wanted to go down. That doesn’t mean I don’t think people should have second chances, I just didn’t want that second chance to come with our program.”
— Mark Stoops apparently came to Mitch with a list of potential offensive coordinators, including the “Air Raid disciples,” namely Neal Brown. Stoops said that at Kentucky, “you’ve gotta get to the edges to compete in the SEC. You can’t run between the tackles and expect to win at Kentucky, at least not now.”
— On improving the football facilities: “There are two things we want to do: improve the fan experience to make it a cool thing to come to Commonwealth Stadium instead of watching on the flat screen at home and making sure our players have a competitive environment they can get better in.”
— Will this be the year the program gets the much-needed bonding capacity from the Legislature? Mitch says he wants to seize the moment: “I don’t know timelines, but I do know this: we have a moment in time for Kentucky football. We’ve got some enthusiasm going with Mark, which is very helpful to us. We have players coming back, which is helpful to us. We’ve got some quarterbacks we can shape the offense around…We have a window of time to make a run at this thing, and I don’t want to miss that.”
We’ll have the podcast for you shortly…