I’m not sure anyone expected the emotional rollercoaster of a day that was ahead of them by the time they woke up early Thursday morning. With Kentucky basketball’s annual Pro Day scheduled for later that evening, a Thursday Night Football matchup between two local favorites in the Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts, and a UK football game to look forward to this weekend, things were looking up with plenty to be excited for.
And then early Thursday morning, the Kentucky football program shared the heartbreaking news that it had lost beloved assistant coach John Schlarman following a two-year battle with cancer.
It was news many likely saw coming considering the regular updates from the football staff and players asking fans for their prayers over the last month or so, specifically in the last few weeks. Schlarman was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma in the summer of 2018 and had coached every game and most practices leading up to this point, but was forced to miss Kentucky’s two most recent games against Missouri and Georgia. His final in-person coaching appearance came on October 17 during UK’s historic win at Tennessee, with UK head coach Stoops awarding the veteran coach and former player the game ball following the victory.
“I’m heartbroken to learn about the passing of my friend, John Schlarman,” Stoops said following the news. “My prayers go out to LeeAnne and the kids, Joseph, Benjamin, Matthew and Evelyn, through this very difficult time.
“John was everything we all strive to be – honest, tough, fair, respected. Kentucky football won’t be the same without him but his legacy will never fade. He was a fighter and we will strive every day to honor his warrior spirit.”
Following the news, the UK football program released a video tribute featuring quotes from the entire coaching staff and several key players on the Kentucky roster highlighting just what Schlarman meant to each of their lives and the person he was behind the scenes.
As expected, the final product was beautiful.
KSR published several articles on Schlarman’s time as a coach and his legacy on the site throughout the day, but if there’s one you read, make sure it’s Nick Roush’s phenomenal feature on the offensive line coach’s long fight and how he was “at his best when life dealt him the worst.”
Coach Schlarman will certainly be missed.
Matthew Mitchell retires from coaching
Following the news of Schlarman’s tragic passing, UK Athletics was hit with yet another bit of difficult news, as Matthew Mitchell, the winningest head coach in Kentucky women’s basketball history with over 300 wins, announced Thursday that he has retired from coaching, thus resigning as head coach of the Wildcats.
“After much conversation with my family and Mr. Barnhart, I have decided to retire from coaching and effectively have resigned as head coach at Kentucky,” Mitchell said in a shocking announcement late Thursday evening. “This was a difficult decision and I know the timing is not ideal, but I do not feel I can give the job what it requires at this time. As has been much publicized, I have had an eventful offseason with my injury and subsequent surgery. I have been open about the fact that the surgery and recovery process has been life-altering for me and my family. Through that, my priorities towards my family and my faith has grown even larger than before and that has led me to make this decision.”
Mitchell retires with a career record of 333-162, including a 303-133 mark at Kentucky.
In the same announcement, UK director of athletics Mitch Barnhart officially named associate head coach Kyra Elzy as the program’s interim head coach, effective immediately. This is the first head coaching position for Elzy, who has served as a NCAA assistant coach since 2002, including associate head coach titles at Kentucky and Tennessee.
Barnhart and Elzy will hold a news conference at 9:30 a.m. ET. this morning.
UK Pro Day
Tucked into a day filled with sad news was the debut of the 2020-21 Kentucky basketball team, who competed in the program’s annual Pro Day in front of scouts from all 30 NBA teams.
Participating in measurements, strength and agility tests, various individual and team drills, and scrimmages, there was plenty of basketball for fans to enjoy. More importantly, it was a chance to the Big Blue Nation to finally put some faces to names and pick out some early fan favorites.
“All right, we’re done. That’s it.” ? @UKCoachCalipari
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) November 13, 2020
The event was a massive success, confirming what John Calipari and the staff have said about the team in the weeks leading up to the event: they’re really, really good.
Despite the fun and net win for the program, the UK head coach did admit that he came away with “mixed emotions” that evening. While things went great on the Kentucky men’s basketball side of things, he couldn’t help but focus on the difficult day for the UK Athletics family following the news of Schlarman’s passing and Mitchell’s departure.
“Lot of mixed emotions today. Our UK Pro Day tonight was great. I expected a good turnout, but I was really blown away to see more than 80 NBA personnel tuning in virtually, including Pat Riley. Excited for our guys because they set a great tone for themselves and our team.
“But it’s also been a really sad day for all of us here at UK Athletics. First we learned about the passing of Coach Schlarman, who absolutely loved this place and loved his players. He fought until the very end and will leave a lasting legacy here.
“Then I walked in this evening and heard Coach Mitchell was stepping away for health reasons. That was tough to hear. Matthew has been here w/me from the start. He’s family. Matthew & I could always talk because we always knew what the other was going through as the basketball coaches. I know this was a tough decision for Coach Mitchell and one he did not take lightly. He leaves here as the winningest coach in program history. He did an incredible job.”
As for the specifics of how things went with the team and what fans can look forward to, check out KSR’s top takeaways from the event:
We will have more basketball coverage on the site throughout the day and into the weekend.
A commitment is coming on KSR
Shifting toward some potential much-needed big news, a UK football recruit is set to announce his college decision this morning, and he will be doing it live on Kentucky Sports Radio.
KSR’s Matt Jones reported Thursday afternoon that the recruit will commit during the radio show, and it’s a big one.
A big UK Football Recruit will announce his college decision tomorrow morning on KSR Radio
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) November 12, 2020
Who could it be? You’ll find out here in just a bit
KSR is live from 10 a.m. to noon. Stay tuned.