I am just as shocked as you all are.
The decision made by Matthew Mitchell to retire from coaching, thus stepping down as the head coach of the Kentucky Women’s Basketball Team, came out of nowhere. With just 13 days left until the college basketball season officially tips off, an 8:00 p.m. announcement on a Thursday night–while the men’s team was participating in its nationally televised Pro Day inside of Memorial Coliseum–caught the entire Big Blue Nation by surprise.
Mitchell’s decision comes on the heels of his ongoing medical concerns, a result of successful brain surgery he underwent over the offseason. He said in his final press release as head coach 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.”
So now, the biggest question is incredibly vague with endless answers: what’s next for the program?
Starting now, associate head coach Kyra Elzy will fill in for Mitchell as the interim head coach. From there, it’s going to have to be a quick and smooth transition process.
Expectations are higher than they ever have been for Kentucky Women’s Basketball, and for good reason. Rhyne Howard became the school’s first-ever preseason All-American just this morning and the team is viewed as a consensus top-11 squad in the country. A highly-touted recruiting class is complemented by a slew of productive veterans. The ‘Cats finally have some height in the middle and enough talent to potentially go 10 players deep. UK still hasn’t officially ruled out the possibility that transfers Jazmine Massengill and Robyn Benton receive immediate eligibility. Throw those two in the mix, and Kentucky is a likely preseason top-five squad.
It would be difficult to argue that Mitchell hasn’t stockpiled his most talented roster as the head coach at UK for the upcoming season. That alone had to make this decision an impossible one. The Final Four aspirations are incredibly valid.
With Elzy taking over effective immediately, the transition process shouldn’t be as strenuous on the players as you might think. Elzy has been guiding practices since they began back on Oct. 14 and has been, for all intents and purposes, the head coach on the court. Had Mitchell been running practices the last month, we could anticipate a few bumps in the changing of power, but that doesn’t appear to be a potential issue; the players already know what an Elzy-coached team looks like.
But even still, the timing feels off. If we factor in the possibility that the complete schedule could come out on Friday, maybe UK and Mitchell wanted to make this move before that announcement. Or maybe a newly discovered health complication forced his hand? But this is all purely conjecture. The reality is Mitchell decided that moving on from coaching was the best decision for him at this moment in his life and no one should ever fault him for that. The program is in trusted hands with Kyra Elzy, who has been on the staff since 2016 and also from 2008-12.
We’ll surely learn more about her in the coming days and weeks; a press conference is scheduled for 9:30 tomorrow morning and we’ll have plenty of content from that event.
There is one thing I can say for sure though: Elzy just inherited the ideal roster for a head coaching debut.