That is a ridiculous headline, right? How could a guy and his program losing an entire coaching staff and 75% of his team and recruiting class be applauded and think something special is coming right around the corner? Well, it’s a 2-part response:
PART 1: Why should Matthew Mitchell be applauded?
Why do programs fall apart? In almost all cases it’s either through scandal or through coaching ineptitude/poor recruiting. It appears that neither of those things apply here. It appears the UK women’s team is falling apart because Matthew Mitchell decided his family was more important. Now, should that make Mitch Barnhart happy? No. But I also don’t think being critical of a guy for wanting to spend more time with young family is appropriate from this fanbase. Mitchell had to make a choice and he chose his personal life over his professional life. I can already hear the rebuttal: but he makes a million dollars which means he has to pay more attention than the average plumber does at his job. Well guess what, despite what many are calling an absurd ignoring of his program, he still leads UK to a Sweet 16 this year. He still has UK at a level it has never achieved. Imagine if he cared as much as people thought he should. It would have been a Final Four year. But I think if Matthew Mitchell was to speak honestly, he would tell you the time he spent with family this year was worth missing out on the Final Four. So I not only applaud him for making a very tough choice in high profile job but he still was very successful in his job. The fact things have fallen apart in the last few weeks shouldn’t be ignored but the reason it happened shouldn’t be as ridiculed as it is. And it leads me to:
PART 2: Why UK could be on the verge of something special?
I’ll preface this by saying that something special could be on the verge of happening IF Matthew Mitchell is the coach. Because despite what’s happened I think he is UK’s best women’s basketball coach and the program couldn’t find anybody better. If he is fired or leaves, the program will most likely go back to mediocrity. Now, what could possible make me think something special could happen with this program that has 6 or 7 scholarship players left? Because it is from the depths of struggle that greats things often happen. The only reason the 1992 team was so special for the fans was because of the probation that preceded it. But while probation immediately decimated UK’s team in 1989 and 1990, Matthew Mitchell doesn’t have that problem. He actually has a decent team returning next year led by a couple of Kentucky natives. This team will face some real odds to make noise in the SEC and the NCAA Tournament but if things fall correctly, they definitely could and endear themselves to the fans. If that happens, why can’t Mitchell get right back into the recruiting groove he’s been in at UK? One Top 10 recruiting class and suddenly the program is recovering quickly AND fans will appreciate the comeback considering the fall of the last few weeks.
I think if Matthew Mitchell plays his cards just right, he might actually come out ahead at the end of this. Save this program, adjust his focus just a little bit and suddenly he could have a 1992-like team that fans fall in love with. It’s a difficult road ahead and everything needs to happen just right from here on out, but I for one still back Matthew Mitchell and think he doesn’t deserve the criticism he has faced for doing something every father should do.