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Mitch Barnhart Talks About Opportunity In Music City Bowl - LEX18.com | Continuous News and StormTracker Weather

Mitch Barnhart Talks About Opportunity In Music City Bowl

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Opening statement
“First and foremost, proud to be playing in the 20th annual Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. It’s our fifth appearance in the bowl game and we have incredible friends in Nashville. It’s a place that sort of become a second home to the University of Kentucky. It’s a place our fans love to go to and it’s very, very special to spend more time with Scott Ramsey and his staff on the Nashville Sports Council. We’re very appreciative of the opportunity to come and represent the Southeastern Conference. So, exciting time for us.

“I want to congratulate Northwestern University and a very dear friend of mine who I sit on the basketball selection committee with, the athletic director there, Jim Phillips. I was just on the phone with him this afternoon. I congratulate him and Coach (Pat) Fitzgerald. They had another great year and they’re on a great run. Obviously a very, very good football team. They’ve won some overtime games and found ways to win, very disciplined in what they do and so it’ll be a real test for our program as we represent the SEC and looking forward to that challenge.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for us. It creates a great opportunity for our team to respond and reestablish who we want to be and to have an opportunity to show how proud of young men we have in our program and what it means to represent this program in a bowl game and so we’re excited about that. What we saw last Saturday is not who we are. Never has been. And it’s not who we will be and that is for sure. I will assure you that their focus will be on reestablishing the way that they play on the field and the way that they’ve represented this program on and off the field. I’m very proud of the young men in this program and they are as well. When you lose a couple games and the way we lost, it stings a little bit and I assure they will bounce back with an incredible effort. Gives us a chance to respond as a team. Having that bowl game gives you a chance to practice. Gives you a chance to respond as a team.

“It also gives our fans a chance to respond. And I’m asking our fans to respond and join us in Nashville. That’s a place we have had unbelievable support. It’s a unique day in our program. We’ve got a basketball game that is at 1 o’clock that afternoon. I think it’s against Louisville (laughter). It is. Big game for our state and I know how much it means to the people of this state. They call it Big Blue Nation for a reason. Because it’s a big, blue nation. There’s a lot of folks that support our program. I think there’s plenty of fans to go around and I hope that the fans will be in Rupp Arena cheering our basketball program that day and I hope there will be another 25, 30,000 fans down in Nashville cheering our football program on down in Nashville. And if they can find that helicopter or that jet to get down the highway right to the game, perfect. That’s awesome. If they can’t, we just hope that they’ll be cheering from the Cats from wherever they happen to be that day. It gives our fans in Western Kentucky an unbelievable opportunity go right down the road and see our friends in Nashville and have an opportunity to watch our football program.

“Really an opportunity for us to respond. Gives us a chance to uplift one another as well, and I think that’s important. Our young people need to know that they’ve got the support of the Big Blue Nation and that they will uplift this program a little bit, as at times our fans have looked for our players to uplift them. I want to have those work together a little bit. And I’m going to challenge our team and I’m going to challenge our fans to respond to one another and let’s show country exactly who we are, both competitively and as a fan base and so I’m looking forward to that.

“I told Scott Ramsey many, many times, there’s never been a group that’s more proud to be in that game. Two biggest crowds they’ve had have been University of Kentucky and I can remember very vividly the times we’ve been down there and it’s always been a blast to go down there. I intend to work very closely with the Sports Council to try and create an environment down there where our fans will have an opportunity to view the basketball game before the football game and walk across that bridge and go in that stadium for the football game and we’ll have some fun. We’ll look forward to that. We need to have some fun. It is a bowl game and it is postseason and the glum faces—‘Oh my word.’ We’re going to have some fun with our team and you have fun by doing a lot of things: in your preparation, the way you celebrate with your fans and the way you play the game. That’s what we are challenging ourselves to do. I’m asking our fans to join us as well. The tickets are obviously on sale and we’ve got the links out there to all the different ticket buys and there’s ways to get that done. Nashville obviously is a great destination in terms of the things and the activities down there. I don’t have to tell everybody what that looks like and there’s a lot of things to do down there, so we’ll look forward to that.

“I also want to congratulate Mark Stoops. Back-to-back bowl games, 7-5 seasons in regular season, opportunity to win his first bowl game as a head and we want that for him. An opportunity to get to eight wins. Really, really important for him. It’s hard to do in a very, very competitive league. Our league is pretty good, in case anyone didn’t notice. Two teams in the CFP, three teams in New Year’s Day bowl games. It’s a really great league. We saw that today. I was down in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the championship yesterday. Had an opportunity to walk the walk and watch Nate Northington and Wilbur (Hackett) and Houston Hogg and Mel Page walk out there to be honored. I wanted to be down there with them on that day. Really, really important to do that. But in that moment, you see how unbelievably special our league is. It was an unbelievable atmosphere for a game and I’m looking forward to the day when we get to take Kentucky down there and that place is half blue against an opponent from the other side. I look forward to day. It can happen. I believe that with all my heart and I’ll be proud when we have the opportunity journey that with our team.

“There’s some turbulence in our league with what’s going on. There’s turbulence in college athletics. It’s reflective of what’s going on in the world today and I’m thankful for the stability we have in our program, with the coaches that we’ve got in general with our program and I’m thankful we’ve got a leader like Mark who believes in young people in our program. He gives them a chance to come from different walks of life. You’re going to have three young people that come up to this podium who come up and visit with you in just a little bit who have come from three uniquely different backgrounds to become Wildcats at the University of Kentucky. You’re going to have Courtney Love, who transferred here from another institution. You’re going to have Stephen Johnson, who came here from a junior college. And you’re going to have Charles Walker, who came here from his home state just up the road as a walk-on and has become one of the real stalwarts of our program. Three different journeys and I think that speaks to the blend of college athletics and what you and try and do in college athletics. You try and bring young people from different walks of life into a locker room and say, ‘Find a way to work together and to build something special.’ That’s what they’ve done. Was it a perfect year? No, it was not. Was it a learning year? Absolutely. These young guys have learned an awful lot. They’re three guys that are seniors. Had them in my home the other night. Had a chance to visit with them about the journey. Really cool stuff. I really enjoyed listening to them. It was fun. That’s what reminds me about what’s special about what we do in college athletics and why we do it. All of the other stuff, yeah, I get it. We gotta manage that. But at the end of the day, it’s about those relationships, those young people, those opportunities to participate in very special moments in their lives. I want to make sure we don’t miss that.

On his plans for Dec. 29 …
“I haven’t worked out my agenda yet. I gotta figure all that out. We’ll sort of see what the responsibilities from the bowl perspective are. It is close. It’s a one o’clock, 4:30 kind of thing. So we’ll have to see how that works. Working on that myself. We just sort of got the details of the day and we’re trying to figure out what’s what. We’ve got staffing issues—clearly we got a major event on our campus we gotta make sure we pay attention to. And then we’ve got major event in Nashville that we’ve gotta pay attention to. So, two really cool parties. Gotta figure out how to throw them and make sure we throw them properly.”

On whether there was concern about two major events in one day …
“I think there’s always conversation. I don’t look at it as a problem. I look at it as a great opportunity and unbelievable celebration. I don’t know that there’s probably too many schools that have the incredible opportunity to have two showcase opportunities in one day for your two marquee programs. That’s really, really a special opportunity. Again, I got back to how do we respond to that as an administration, as teams and fans? I think it’s a really cool deal.”

On how evaluates this season …
“I think we continue to take steps. I’m not going to get into a postseason evaluation right now because I think that’s something that Mark and I will sit down at the end of the year and look at it. There was some things—would you like to have a couple things back? Absolutely. I don’t think there’s ever a year where you go through anything like that and you don’t say, ‘I wish I could have that one play back or that series back,’ or something like that. There’s also things that you sit there and say, ‘You know what, I saw we got better there and there were some moments where we moved it to a different spot and that was a good thing.’ So I think you look at those as you have a chance to reflect back and you look as the year comes to a close. Mark and I will sit down and have that conversation like we always do and he’s always really honest. That’s the one thing I love about Mark. He’s extremely honest. He’s reflective to himself and to his staff. He’s hard on himself and he wants this program to be as great as well all want it to be and I think that—again, I go back. This is a hard league. It’s a really hard league and I think that our guys have fought and we want to go find that eighth win. I think that’s gotta be the focus right now and then we’ll look back at the end of it and say, ‘OK, where did it land and did we make all the progress we wanted to make?’ Surely not. We want to be in the SEC championship game. That’s where we want to be. We want to be down in Atlanta where I was yesterday. I always made a vow I wasn’t going to go to that game until I could take my own team. I broke that promise for those four guys. I thought that was more important. But at the end of the day, I want to take our team to Atlanta. That’s the goal. Make no mistake about it. We want get to Atlanta and have a chance to win the SEC championship.

“I had an opportunity to get on the phone the other day with my old quarterback from Oregon State. I’ve been visiting with him a lot. It was a guy named Jonathan Smith. I remember going to Oregon State back in 1998 and Jonathan Smith was a walk-on quarterback for us. I tell this story only because he just walked into a press conference as the head coach at Oregon State the other day with his championship ring from the Pac 10 from when we played in the Fiesta Bowl and beat Notre Dame. And he said, ‘You know what, when I walked on at Oregon State no one said we could ever do that.’ So I don’t believe things can’t be done. We wouldn’t have taken this job at Kentucky if we didn’t believe we could build a broad-based program and get things done that had never been done before. We’ve done that in a lot of different ways. So I don’t believe, just because it’s a tough league, that we cannot get done what we dream of doing. That’s winning a Southeastern Conference championship and playing in those kind of moments, but I do not want to take away from what we’ve done in building back-to-back bowl games and trying to get that bowl win and eighth win. Don’t want to do that. We want to continue to try and make progress. Sometimes it takes longer than you want. We’ve invested in football here. We’ve got a wonderful stadium, a training facility that’s outstanding and I believe we’ve got the foundational pieces in place. That doesn’t automatically give you success. You must continue to do the little things. And it is little things that win you championships, but I don’t believe to ever take the dream away. I don’t believe to ever take the possibilities away and we’ll continue to work really, really hard at that. Recruiting is going well. We’ll sign a class on December 20th and we’ll continue to go down and play that game on the 29th and we’ll move on to spring practice and continue to build for next year.”

On whether he had discussions with Stoops about the Louisville game …
“Yeah. We talked about it. We lost our composure and I don’t think there’s any mystery in that. We got frustrated and we lost our composure and did not handle ourselves. We’re one of the fewest—over the last two or three years, we’re one of the fewer penalized teams in the league and, frankly, most of those penalties are generally holding or pass interferences or things like that. Things that are not like that. That is not who we’ve been. I think we’ll continue to manage most of those things internally. Mark did a good job of that. He addressed it and I think we can work our way through that, but that’s not who we are. I think you’ll talk to these guys and you’ll find they’re a very proud group of guys. Our team is a group of guys that are proud of who they are and what they’ve tried to accomplish. To sit there and say that is who our personalities are or who we are when we represent each other on the field, that’s not us. That’s not us. We got a group of guys that believe in playing the game hard, doing all we can to win the game the right way and representing this university the right way. They get that. We’ve all talked and Mark addressed it and I think that we’ll move on. Give us a chance to reestablish ourselves and that’s what I’m asking our fans to do. I’m asking them to respond like I’m asking our players to respond. I’m asking us to lift each other up. We need them a little bit right now and I surely hope they need us. That’s what I’m asking.”

On whether he is concerned generally about home attendance …
“I think that if you look around, we’ve got to—I always tell people that we had a great crowd, an unbelievable crowd for the Florida game. It was one of the great atmospheres we’ve had here. It was wonderful and we just didn’t quite get it done. Sometimes when you get those big moments, you’ve got to break through those. You’ve got to get some of those and you’ve got to say, ‘Yep, we busted through that shell.’ And when you do, it has a ripple effect on what you do. Attendance across the country is a little bit of a struggle right now, in a lot of different places. We’ve got to do a better job in the industry and the enterprise that we’ve got of making sure that we’re doing all we can to provide an environment that people want to come and be a part of that. They have a collective decision, with their money and their time, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re doing a really good job with providing a game, an entertainment opportunity, whatever you want to call that, that says it’s worth your time and it’s worth your investment to come and be a part of that. We think it is. We think pouring into young people is really important. We think that providing quality, quote, entertainment, whatever you want to call that, is really important and we think college sports is unique. It provides a unique opportunity to come and fellowship and have fun. We have experienced over the last three days here in this stadium high school athletics at an incredible level. I think it’s a record attendance for the high school football playoffs, occurred here. There’s a reason people come to athletic events and we want to celebrate that, but we’ve gotta do a really good job, a very thoughtful job of how we put our events on. There’s a responsibility on everybody’s part. We’ve got a competitive piece. We’ve got a responsibility how we put the event on and we gotta make sure we treat people well when they come to our venues. It’s a national issue and we’ve got to address that nationally. It’s not just college sports. It’s in every venue.”

On guaranteed ticket sales for the Music City Bowl …
“There’s an 8,000 minimum to the league. Our fans have always been tremendous in responding to that. I don’t see that being an issue. I’m hoping that we’ll have 15, 20,000 fans down there for that. I would really like to see that kind of a crowd down there and fully anticipate the Big Blue Nation will come and do that for us. We really need their support and so I’m asking them to do that and sort of lift us up and be there with our team.”

On how a fan with tickets to the basketball game should handle the football game …
“Well, it’s a great question. I’ll have to work on that. We’ll have to figure that one out. That’s a tough one. It’s going to be tough to be in two spots at once. I’m not asking people to choose. What I’d say is look into your family and say this group go this way and this group go this way and we’ll both come back winners. So let’s do that. Divide and conquer is what I would say.”

On future scheduling issues …
“I think these are challenges other programs have had to face and so certainly that’s something I hope we have to face on a regular basis. That’s the challenge you want. You want to have two programs that are functioning at a high level, that have people that really want you to be on a television scene one way or another and it causes you to have to work at that. So yeah, we’ll work at it. Those are the kind of challenges that are really, really special for your program. I want us to have multiple opportunities to showcase the University of Kentucky. If we’re not doing that, then, my word, I don’t think we’re doing what they put us in this spot to do. So I would like to be able to have multiple opportunities to showcase Kentucky.”

On whether he personally received fan complaints …
“Yeah, I did. I got some emails from folks and I shared that with our team. I told them, ‘Guys, this is not who we are. It isn’t.’ I know these guys well. I’m around them a lot and I trust them. I think they’re good people and they’ve got good hearts. But it wasn’t who we are. That’s not we’ve been and so that was a little disappointing to us. I think when the game doesn’t go your way and you get a little frustrated in something that’s so important to you, sometimes you can lose your composure and we lost ours. But that doesn’t mean that’s who we will. I will defend those guys every day, because I know that they’re going to be great young men, they’re going to represent themselves well in life and that’s part of our jobs, to sit here and help them learn how to grow as young people. With that comes growing pains, as it does for all of our children that we have in our families. I will fight for them and I’ll work with them, but that doesn’t give them a pass. The challenge to them is become the guys and reestablish our character and our good name that we know that we have. Our name hasn’t been tarnished. These guys are 7-5 and they went 4-4 in the league. We had one game we did not represent, from that perspective, how we wanted to be. I don’t want that to define them and I don’t want it to define us. I don’t think that’s fair. But I will say this: That has been addressed and I want to shut that door and move on and let’s go find a way to reestablish who we are.”

On Stoops’ contract triggering an extension year …
“I think that at our place you show growth by continuing to get to postseason play and, frankly, in this time of instability in the world of college athletics, I think that shows stability and things that we want to keep moving forward. You can say, OK, that’s not enough, that’s not strong enough. Everyone can disagree. Fine. But at the end of the day, look around the landscape. What we have isn’t broken. It is continuing to try and grow and the stability is important. We’ve got a man that cares about this program deeply, has invested deeply in it and is continuing to recruit young people to our program that we think can continue to grow it. As long as we’re making progress and getting to postseason and trying take that next step, it’s worth honoring. Stability is important and we’ve shown that with the rest of the coaches in our program. We won a volleyball championship, got to the Sweet 16 last night. It was an interesting journey to the Sweet 16 last night, but we got there. Twelve years it took us to win that championship. Twelve years to become a top-four seed. Unfortunately in the world of college football and basketball sometimes you don’t get that period of time. And Craig’s (Skinner) done a remarkable job for 12 straight years, right? He’s done a great job, but how hard it was in this league to get to the top of that mountain. Really hard. And so it’s equally hard in the sport of football. Our history at the University of Kentucky would not indicate that it’s really easy and we’re going to have to have some staying power and some stability to do that. So that’s why.”

On whether any other schools have reached out to him about Stoops …
“They haven’t called me. Maybe they called you (laughter). That’s what usually happens. You guys tell me, right?”

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