This was an impossible moment to prepare for, but Kyra Elzy appears up to the task.
The newly introduced interim head coach of the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats Women’s Basketball Team is replacing a Bluegrass icon just 12 days before a potentially special season is set to begin. From the moment Matthew Mitchell announced his shocking retirement from coaching late Thursday night, Elzy’s life took a sharp turn. She inherits a squad with Final Four hopes and an incredibly talented roster not just for the upcoming season, but years to come.
Like most of 2020, this isn’t exactly how she envisioned her year playing out.
“November 12, it will be one of those days that I will never forget,” Elzy told the media during her introductory press conference Friday morning. “It was bittersweet in so many ways. I always dreamed of taking over for Coach Mitchell as he rode off into the sunset. I never quite imagined it like this. That’s the funny thing about life, it never quite goes like planned.”
Elzy couldn’t plan for this moment–no one could have. But there isn’t going to be time to reflect on the opportunity she’s been given. The season is under two weeks away. Luckily, she’s been unknowingly training for this exact moment over the last several months. During Mitchell’s absence, Elzy assumed control of the team, leading practices and playing the role of, for all intents and purposes, the Kentucky head coach. Even though she had never been a head coach before, the previous 18 years of assistant coaching experience, the last four of which were in Lexington, put her in prime position to lead a necessary quick transition of power.
Not only does she know the Wildcat program well, she knows the conference equally as much. Elzy played under legendary Tennessee head coach Pat Summit and later spent four seasons under her wing as an assistant coach. Winning has been in her DNA since she left La Grange, KY out of high school to suit up for the Volunteers.
“I am ready to embrace this moment,” Elzy said. “I am a seasoned vet in the SEC. I have 12 years of coaching experience and five years playing in arguably the best conference in the country. I am a two-time NCAA Champion, a SEC Champion as a player and as a coach. I have recruited at the highest level at several institutions.”
It was difficult for Elzy to hide her smile throughout the impromptu Zoom meeting. Her words were confident, but the tone in her voice was eager and her jokes were humbling. Even if the circumstances made it unordinary, this is still a goal she has pursued for years.
“She [Elzy] sat in my office probably a year ago and she talked about what it would take to be a head coach and wanted to know what I look for,” Athletic director Mitch Barnhart said on Friday. “And I think she knew the answer before she asked the question because she is really smart. So, she is prepared and she has a game plan.”
And even if Elzy does run into an issue, she has one of the nation’s most trustworthy fallback plans.
“If all else fails, put the ball in Rhyne Howard’s hands,” Elzy said with a chuckle. “And let her do what she does best.”
In reality, there might not be a more perfect choice to fill in this job than Elzy, especially when you consider the turnaround rate of Mitchell’s decision and her immediate promotion to head woman in charge. The coaching experience, recruiting skills, and connections she has formed with the current players cannot be replicated by any other person on the planet.
She ended her opening statement as the interim head coach with this trust-inspiring comment:
“Big Blue Nation, I will give you my all.”