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TRANSCRIPT: Mitch Barnhart introduces Kyra Elzy as Kentucky WBB interim head coach

Matthew Mitchell has stepped down and Kyra Elzy is stepping in.

During an early Friday morning press conference, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart officially announced the hiring of associate head coach Elzy as the interim head coach for the upcoming 2020-21 season. Mitchell made his shocking retirement announcement late Thursday night and Elzy is now in full control for the immediate future.

Here is everything Barnhart and Elzy had to say during her introductory news conference.

Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart

Opening statement…

“Thank you, Evan, I appreciate it, and I appreciate everybody getting together this morning. These press conferences are a little unusual this way, it’s not my favorite thing to do, I’d rather be in person, with all due respect to Kyra (Elzy), for the opportunity to share the podium with her, that would be a wonderful day, but unfortunately with this world that we’re living in, it doesn’t avail us to do that, so we’ll do it this way and keep going. I’d like to thank everybody for joining us, and first let me start by recognizing Matthew Mitchell. I can’t say enough of what he has done for Kentucky women’s basketball and the University of Kentucky over the last 13 years. If you look at what he has accomplished, with 300 wins and turning our program into a perineal power in the Southeastern Conference. We are someone that is reckoned with every time we take the floor. He created a homecourt environment in Memorial Coliseum that was difficult to play in, and an SEC Title in 2012, and obviously, the NCAA Tournament, we were there often with a 17-9 record and three Elite Eight appearances. More than that, I think it was what he did off that court that separated Matthew from a lot of folks with his high energy, excitement, the way he brought a level of enthusiasm to our program. He was a great ambassador for the University of Kentucky. He and Jenna (Mitchell) totally engrained themselves into our community, more than just women’s basketball, they were great ambassadors. They did things within the community that were helpful to many, many people in many ways. I know this was an extremely difficult decision for Matthew and Jenna, and we obviously want them to be a part of our program, and they have ensured us that they are going to stay in Lexington and be around our program, and we’re thankful for that. We want them to be a part of our family forever, so we’re looking forward to spending time with them as we go. Having said that, we’ve got a season that is 12 days away from beginning, and we have to prepare for the start of the 2020-21 basketball season, and to do that we have got to have someone leading our program with a very familiar face, and we’re excited that we didn’t have to look very far to find someone that we felt like could begin that process, and that is Kyra Elzy. So, I am excited to see her on the screen with me, I wish she was sitting next to me on the podium, but we’ll do it this way. But, she has been alongside Matthew this entire time, or for a good chunk of the time, and has been a part of that success that we’ve had at the University of Kentucky, so she has been a proven teacher, she’s been a leader, she’s been a great recruiter for our program, she was an incredible player in her days, and so she has the resume that allows us to have confidence in knowing that she can begin this process and get to know our program a little more at a different spot, and we get to know her in a different spot, and so, we are looking forward to that. She’s been a part of Matthew’s absence, as he was working through his injury, she’s been leading our program off the court, and she has done a wonderful job and just steadying the waters for our program as we go through these times of all the difficult uncertainties of what is going on with COVID, and she has done wonderful in guiding through all of those pieces. I look forward to spending more time with Kyra here shortly and we will get to philosophically align our thoughts, and we will do all of that, but for right now, we have to focus on getting started, and that’s where we want her to be. So, we’re going to let her have the floor here, and let her enjoy the opportunity as she takes the reigns and begins the process of leading our program. So, Kyra, congratulations and I am looking forward to journeying with you.”

On how Matthew Mitchell gave you the decision and how the players were told…

“You know, obviously, Matthew is incredibly special to us. Matthew is a 100-percent guy. He is, if nothing else, he doesn’t do anything halfway. He is 100 percent kind of deal, and he’d been sharing with me a little bit about the challenges of just getting back after his surgery, and I think it’s been documented. We talked a few times and he just couldn’t get to where he felt comfortable. So, he called on Wednesday and said, ‘Hey, can we talk for a few minutes,’ and I said sure. He said he didn’t feel like he was where he wanted to be and he wasn’t 100 percent, and he sort of went back to that same phrase, he’s an all-in kind of guy. Kyra used that terminology, he just felt like it was not where he wanted to be or didn’t’ feel like he could be in that mindset, so he said he was going to step away and he was pretty resolute in that. We talked about a variety of thoughts, and he was resolute in saying I think it’s time. So, I was respectful of that. We’ve got a friendship that runs a long time. He spent 13 years as a head coach here, but he also spent some time as an assistant, so I’ve known Matthew for a long time, and I want to be respectful of his thoughts and wishes, and of Jenna’s, and so we talked for a while. We talked again yesterday morning about just making sure that, I said let’s sleep on it, and let’s make sure that we’re where we want to be, and we talked about steps forward, and what we need to do, and we walked through that with the team yesterday, and I let Matthew visit with them and explain his decision, and then I followed up and talked about the process of bringing Kyra on board, and giving them the chance to work through that process. Then, I let them have their time as a team. So, Kyra might be more able to talk about their time with the players and how they were feeling. I thought that was a family moment that maybe I needed to let them have that time together. So, that’s how we played the last 48 hours and it is incredibly respectful on all fronts, and I am thankful for the friendship that we have developed with the Mitchell family over the last 15 to 18 years, and I don’t intend on letting that stop. He is a part of our family and always will be. I am thankful for what Matthew has contributed to this community.”

On what the week has been like, and how he is weathering the storm…

“There is no mystery that this has been tough week. I am not going to sugarcoat it, the Schlarman family has been heavy on our hearts. John Schlarman is a guy, and this is not the press conference where we are talking about John, but you brought it up and we would be remised if we didn’t talk about John Schlarman and his impact at Kentucky. He is to our program what embodies toughness and competitiveness and all of those pieces, so it was a really hard 48 hours as we lost a member of our family, so that was tough. To have a conversation in the same window, losing another member of our family in a different way, that’s been tough for all of us. But, the blessing in that is we have someone like Kyra that we can turn to that loves our program dearly, that embraces the values that we have and wants to represent Big Blue Nation. But, it’s been tough, with every day, it seems like, just trying to get our teams ready to go, and ready to play, and the challenges that it has presented for just getting to competitions has been hard. Our players and our student-athletes have done an amazing job of being ready. They have been diligent in their preparation, they have been very helpful in following protocol and having discipline just to give us a chance to play. So, we have made adjustments in how we do our work, and all of that has been good, and this is all to say, it’s been a really tough week Jon. It’s been hard. So, to see Kyra smile, and to be able to share this moment with her is – that brings a little sunshine to the week, and we’re glad about that. But, not going to lie, it’s been a lot. Our staff has been incredible, operations to facilities to everything that has gone on, people have really stepped up and done amazing work just to try and give us a chance. But, it’s been a tough week.”

On if this is a long term transition and in what way will Coach Mitchell remain a part of the program…

“On the last part of the question, we just want Matthew around. There is no official capacity at this point, we just want him to know that he is always a part of our family. He has a very special place in our hearts, both he and Jenna, and we hope they’ll always be around. On the first part of your question, absolutely. We wouldn’t be taking these steps if we didn’t think that this would be a long term solution or thought, but much like any interview process, usually in an interview process you have the opportunity to spend a little time going through a couple of different conversations and just talking philosophically and making sure that you’re aligned, and I haven’t had the opportunity, because of COVID and how fast this occurred, I didn’t get a chance to have those conversations with Kyra, and I think that is an important step, in just making sure that you’re aligned philosophically and the way we’re trying to build our culture and our program, and just making sure that we’re thoughtful in that. And, I think that is part of my due diligence, and the thing that I am responsible for as the athletic director, and she understands that, and I think that is a step we all have to take. She is ready to go on that, I don’t think there is one moment – she 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, 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, I just want to know what the game plan looks like. You know, just like any coach, you don’t’ walk in without a game plan, and as the athletic director, I’d like to know what the game plan is. So, we’ll do that, and we’ll spend some time. There is no timeline on that, so I’m not going to say it’s December 1, December 15, I’m not going to do that. But, you guys know me well enough to know that I will be thoughtful and thorough, and spend some time, but I told her this morning on the phone that I will be intentional about getting together, but right now her focus is November 25. We’re less than 12 days away from tipping this thing off with a really good team.  She has worked really hard over the last six months, and she is ready. So, we’re ready to enjoy the fruits of her labor and how hard she has prepared, and we’re anxious to watch this team.”

On why not take a leave of absence…

“We talked about different options, and different things that may be on Matthew’s mind, and he was pretty resolute it was time to step away. I am hopeful that I will always be respectful for what people have on their hearts, and Matthew is very thoughtful. There isn’t anything that he does without a lot of thought and prayer, and he is  thoughtful man and prayerful man, and he said he has spent time in both of those ways just to walk through that with Jenna, and they have come to that decision and that he was resolute in it. So, I respect that. That’s why I said to sleep on it one night, but also we couldn’t wait in terms of where we were. We needed to have some direction of our program to move forward, and he called Thursday morning and said he was solid in where his thoughts were and needed to move on.”

Interim Head Coach Kyra Elzy

Opening statement…

“Thank you, Mr. Barnhart. I really appreciate all of your kind words. Thank you to President (Eli) Capilouto and the UK administration for the opportunity to be the interim head coach at Kentucky. I am truly humbled and honored. I am ready to take ownership of what has been placed upon me. November 12, it will be one of those days that I will never forget. 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. To Coach Mitchell, my mentor, my friend, my brother, thank you. You gave 25 years of your life to the game of basketball. I have watched you literally pour yourself into Kentucky women’s basketball. You have empowered so many women to greatness. This season is for you, coach. We will always honor, celebrate and be forever grateful to the winningest head coach in our program to date. You are Kentucky women’s basketball. To Jenna, my sister wife. Thank you for being you. For your love of this program and community. You, Saylor (Mitchell) and Presley (Mitchell) will always be a part of our Wildcat family. The winning tools of our program are honest, hard work and discipline. Coach Mitchell and I are aligned in so many ways in our coaching philosophy. That’s what made our coaching chemistry magical and very successful. He has already laid the blueprint for this program in which I’m confident in and will follow suit. To our players, thank you for being resilient. You all have been through so much and you still come ready to battle, daily. You all have amazed me during this difficult time, I wouldn’t want to be with any other team right now, besides you all. As I take the reins of this program, I will make sure that our core values are rooted in family, accountability, servant leadership and an all-in mentality. These values are all encompassing on how we will achieve success on and off the court. Family – Niya Butts and Amber Smith – I can’t imagine taking over this program without these two by my side. These two ladies along with Daniel Boice and Coach Lin Dunn, have all played a vital role in preparing the team during Coach Mitchell’s absence. Niya, she and I have been battled tested for over 20 years together. Her passion for the game of basketball is undeniably contagious. She brings a wealth of knowledge, head coaching experience and is a dynamic recruiter. Amber, my sidekick, my little mini me, my protégé, she’s helped put this program on the national scene as a player.  Her love for the program is second to none.  She is a rising star that connects with our players and recruits on a high level. Amy Tilley our DOBO, Courtney Jones our trainer, Tiffany Hayden our women’s basketball liaison and all of our support staff, thank you. It’s the people that make Kentucky amazing. I am ready to embrace this moment. 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. There are so many people to thank for preparing me for this moment.  The list is too long to mention everyone by name but you know who you are. To my mom: the strongest woman I know, thank you for making me the woman I am today. To my husband Dexter, my No. 1 fan and supporter, I wouldn’t be able to do this job without your love and support. To Jackson, my baby boy who loves being a Kentucky Wildcat. He loves the players but I do have to report, he love the dancing girls more. To Bonnie Henrickson, Holly Warlick, and Mary Taylor- Cowles for mentoring me and giving me an opportunity to coach at the collegiate level. To the influential women in our athletic department, Rachel Baker, Candice Chaffin, Sandy Bell, Stephanie Tracey-Simmons, thank you for your advice, your encouragement and believing in women empowerment. To the Elzy family who love and support me unconditionally. To my hometown of La Grange, Kentucky, who has poured life into me from the beginning. Last by note least, Coach Pat Summitt, rest in peace, Coach. I hope that I am making you proud today. If I can be half the woman and half coach that you were, I would be doing something with myself. Thank you for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself, for instilling a mental toughness and work ethic in me that has helped me succeed. Big Blue Nation, I will give you my all. Our staff will work relentlessly to recruit the best talent, to put a Wildcat team on the floor that will compete at a high level. Our players will graduate and give back to the community. This will be a program that you all will continue to remain proud of. Go Cats!”

On your thoughts about growing up in Oldham County and how far you’ve come since then…

“You know, I have received an outpouring of love from my community and family in La Grange, Kentucky. I do have a street named after me, I think they didn’t have anything better to do with their time, but you know, it’s an amazing community. I am so honored. I know they are proud. To grow up in Kentucky and have the opportunity to coach at the state school, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will not take lightly.”

On significance of being a part of the growing number of black female coaches who have been hired during this offseason…

“You know, the coaching community, it is s a family community. This is a tough profession to be in. It is a lot of hours, but it’s very rewarding. I got into coaching originally because I wanted to inspire, impact and influence young women, and God has given me the platform to do so. There have been so many black coaches to lead the way in order for me to be given this opportunity, and one thing that my coach, Coach Pat Summitt has always taught me, there are people before you to lay the foundation, and now you have the opportunity, and it is my responsibility to pay the blessings forward, so whatever I can do to help other coaches to lift up young players that want to get in the profession, I am willing, I am able, and I look forward to blessing someone else like I have been blessed.”

On taking over a top-10 team with the potential National Player of the Year…

“It has not totally hit me yet, but I do realize that I am taking over a top team in the country, and I am just going to use it as positivity. Not every head coach gets to walk in to a team that has been successful, and I have been receiving a lot of text messages and phone calls to mentors, friends and colleagues that are given me advice, and the best advice that I have received thus far – If all else fails, put the ball in Rhyne Howard’s hands, and let her do what she does best. So, to be able to coach a player like Rhyne, and the talent that we have on this team, you know, I do understand a lot is at stake, and I am ready for this moment. I’ve been there as a player, now as a coach, and now we’re about to put it in action.”

On how you had the conversation with the players…

“Well, it was a really tough day, emotionally, for the players and staff. Coach has been our leader, he’s been our coach, he is our friend. You know, they signed up to play for him. They were emotional, but happy that he is truly at peace with his decision. They want the best for him, they want him to be happy. Between phone calls and texts throughout the night, they said we are going to grind coach, we are going to put our head down and make this the best season, that is the best way we can pay honor and tribute to coach. So, it will be a transition, but we will be ready to take the floor on November 25, and they’re are going to give their all for coach and this program.”

On if you have some wrinkles or philosophy that you may try to install yourself this season…

“Yes, they all contribute to how I will coach. The thing that I said about Coach Mitchell and I being aligned in our coaching philosophy, you know, we were all under Coach Summitt’s tutelage. So, that is our foundation. I am a defensive-minded coach. I want to be tough defensively and disrupt. Obviously, we are going to continue to play up tempo and recruit players that our versatile, which our team is extremely versatile now, so there are endless possibilities of what you can do offensively. I will say Coach Lin Dunn, in the last three seasons, has turned me over to the dark side, because she said we had too many defensive coaches on the floor, so she would always scream, ‘Offense, offense, offense.’ So, she has turned me over to the dark side, which I am extremely grateful for now that I am going to sit in this seat, being extremely offensive minded, intentional, knowing what you want to run for your personnel. So, this year we have installed a lot of things that we have run in the past. It fits our personnel. I will probably add some more quick hitters as we head into the season, simply because this, our versatility this year in depth makes us different. Unlike last year, we have post presence inside, so we want to play inside-out, with KeKe (McKinney), Tatyana (Wyatt), Dre’una (Edwards) makes us different, with the addition of Olivia Owens, we have people that can score inside. So, we really relied on the outside shot last year, we were permitter heavy, so this year we truly can play inside-out, which changes the dynamic of our offense.”

On how being so familiar with the team helps your transition into being the interim head coach…

“You know, I think that was big. First and foremost, relationships with the players no matter what seat you sit in. So, I’ve always had great relationships with our players as well as everyone on our staff, but I thought that was big just for the trust factor, familiarity with them and them with me and this staff, but overall, coach has always empowered everyone on our staff the opportunity to get on the floor and coach and really give our opinion, so, I don’t think it was that big a shock to the system, to the players, for me to takeover, or for Coach Niya Butts or Coach Amber Smith to coach them, because that’s what Coach Mitchell has always empowered us to do, and in the long term, I think that has paid off for us under this circumstance.”

On what do you think Coach Pat Summitt would say to you when you’re in the heat of the moment in a game…

“I think Coach Summitt would say to remain poised, remain confident, but prepare. Prepare for those moments, those situations. Not only have yourself prepared, but your team prepared, so we know what we’re doing and we’re confident in it. Preparation, that is what Coach Summitt would tell me.”

On how you think your relationships with the assistant coaches may change for you…

“Well, I don’t quite know yet. I have always heard that it is a dramatic change. This year might be a little different just because they have always known me as their assistant coach, and we have great relationships. I kind of joked with them yesterday, I told them that I would make some mistakes along the way, but I would figure it out and navigate through this time, and now I will be the person that won’t make all the popular decisions, and they won’t always like them, but I am confident that they know that my heart is in the right place to make a decision that is best for the whole of the program, but I think having open communication with them, honest communication that is flowing both ways, I think that will be vital to this transition.”

On how well can you dance and what does servant leadership mean to you…

“One, no I cannot dance. That is not in my realm of expertise. I will leave that to Coach Amber Smith, if she would like to take over dancing at Big Blue Madness, I am all for it, I will pass the baton to her for sure. Well servant leadership for me is our players are top priority, and everybody has to be willing to give above themselves. I have talked to the staff, our support staff, pour yourself into the players, whether it is giving them a shoulder to cry on, whether it is a hug, whether it is encouragement, pour yourself into something bigger than yourself, that is what servant leadership means to me.”

On how much of priority is in-state recruiting to you and how different is this program to the one you said no to 25 years ago…

“Ok, we’re not going to bring up the past, but I did say yes to Coach Pat Summitt, and to my defense, it’s hard to say no to Coach Summitt, an icon. However, this program is in a totally different place than it was when I was coming out of high school, it was great, but for me personally, it was close to home, not far enough, but I wanted to play for Coach Summitt. Now, in-state kids are huge to the success of the program. We have Erin Toller, Emma King, Blair Green, all who will play impact roles for us, and it is important for us to keep homegrown Kentucky girls at home, at the state school.”

On a potential walk-up song…

“I have not. Honestly, I haven’t gotten that far, but I am sure the staff and/or the players will find something for me that they designate as cool, so I know they will hook me up, I am confident.”

Article written by Zack Geoghegan

Recruiting reporter for KSR. Follow me on Twitter: @ZGeogheganKSR

4 Comments for TRANSCRIPT: Mitch Barnhart introduces Kyra Elzy as Kentucky WBB interim head coach

  1. 859bornandraised
    4:57 pm November 13, 2020 Permalink

    Wishing nothing but the best for her and the women’s team….GO CATS!!!!!

  2. JoeBee
    7:38 pm November 13, 2020 Permalink

    Good luck! Go Big Blue!

  3. kcanant
    8:05 pm November 13, 2020 Permalink

    Dear transcriber…”turning our program into a perineal power”…An occurrence that happens annually, or regularly is perennial. Perineal means something completely different. Being called a perineal power is NOT a compliment.

    • nocode96
      9:26 pm November 13, 2020 Permalink

      lol. Really solid point.