BOZICH| Special Assignment: One-on-One with UK AD Mitch Barnhart
(Editor's Note: In the third of his four interviews with the athletic directors of the four Kentuckiana BCS athletic programs, Rick Bozich of WDRB talked to Mitch Barnhart of Kentucky. A story about Fred Glass of Indiana was posted Sunday, followed by an interview with Todd Stewart of Western Kentucky Monday. Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich will conclude the series on Wednesday.)
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – You think winning football games in the Southeastern Conference is a difficult assignment? It certainly is. Try running an athletic department with a budget of nearly $105 million and staying competitive in 21 men's and women's sports.
The average tenure of the 14 SEC athletic directors is barely six years. Eight have been in their position for five seasons or less. There is Jeremy Foley, 21 seasons into his run at Florida. There is Mike Alden, who started at Missouri in 1998.
The athletic director with the third-longest tenure in the SEC is Mitch Barnhart of Kentucky, who followed Larry Ivy more than 11 years ago. He arrived from Corvallis, Oregon with a young family in 2002. Now Barnhart, 54, and his wife, Connie, are eagerly anticipating becoming first-time grandparents next May.
Barnhart said the Kentucky athletic program is one he had always admired from afar, especially while working at Tennessee and Oregon State. His brother, Eric, worked in Lexington for a dozen years so Barnhart had an understanding of the Bluegrass culture.
"It is one of the unique places without a pro sports franchise in the state," Barnhart said.
So when Kentucky called, Barnhart was eager to listen – and then report for duty. During an hour-long interview in his office at the Joe Craft Center, Barnhart said that he rarely wears any of his championship rings. He said he tries to celebrate the journey as much as the result.
"I like the emotion of sports," he said. "I'm an emotional person. I wear that on my sleeve a little bit. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes it's not so good. But for the most part, I think that's why we're in this deal.
"I think what happens is we get caught up in this business and it gets to be a business and that's not why I got into it initially … I got into it because I love to compete and I love the locker room and I love coaches and athletes.
"All the videos that you watch that get you fired up? I like that stuff. Maybe that's goofy, but I like that stuff. That's probably the side of things that people don't know about me much. That's why I climb (mountains). I like challenges and doing things that are difficult and have emotion and passion to them. And I like helping people."
*Barnhart also said that his leadership style is based on the Bible and that he is not a fan of books that claim to invent new management principles.
"The greatest leader in my life (Jesus Christ) did it 2,000 years ago in three years with 12 disciples," he said. "I don't think there is any leadership principle that you can share in today's world that isn't Biblical. That goes back to me and the way I was raised and the things that I believe in …
"I laugh a little bit when a lot of people write these books and all of a sudden they act like the guru. There's no gurus out there. There's no gurus out there. There are people who help us remember. They're not inventing anything."
*Barnhart is concerned with reports that the average person interacts with social media 7-to-9 hours per day and says that to be effective, leaders must invest more time in mentoring young athletes.
"We've told them greed is good, selfish is better and being prideful people is really important," he said. "I'm not getting on my soapbox, other than to say if we expect a better result we'd better help them understand what it's supposed to look like.
"We'd better show them what we want them to do and we're not going to be able to show them through social media. We better get relational with the young people in today's world because we don't want to have a lost generation or two or three."
*Barnhart said that final plans for the renovation of Commonwealth Stadium will be announced Monday. Work on the 18-month project is set to begin Dec. 1. In addition to the amenities that will be added to the stadium, Barnhart also wants Commonwealth to crackle with more personality.
"When people look at it, I want them to say that looks a little bit like Kentucky," he said.
*He said he did not want this interpreted as writing off any games, but 2015 will be an important season for the football program. The Wildcats will play eight home games in a renovated stadium with three classes of players recruited by Mark Stoops, UK's first-year coach hired by Barnhart last December.
"Mark will be in his third year with some recruiting classes that will start to build off one another," Barnhart said.
*Barnhart said that he has no issue with the 10 basketball players recruited by John Calipari who have jumped to the NBA after one college season. He said other programs also recruit one-and-done players, simply not as many. Barnhart also talked about a student, whom he declined to name, who dropped out of UK early to pursue a non-athletic career in New York City -- to considerable acclaim in the Lexington community.
Said Barnhart, "I say to folks who are critics: ‘You don't want us to recruit those kids to our program?' "
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