LEXINGTON, Ky. — In a move that came out of the blue on Thursday, Kentucky women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell stepped down from a position he'd held for 13 seasons. Assistant coach Kyra Elzy has been appointed interim head coach.
The Wildcats have not yet released their schedule but they are just a couple of weeks away from the season beginning. Mitchell suffered a fall while he was in Mexico with his family on vacation this summer. After suffering some headaches he went to the doctor and found out he had bleeding on the brain. He would eventually have brain surgery to correct the problem. He had missed all workouts with the team while his staff, led by Elzy, had run the team.
Mitchell steps down from Kentucky with the most wins all-time in school history with 303. His Wildcats were 22-8, 10-6 in the SEC in the shortened 2019-'20 season. In the last eleven seasons, Mitchell has guided Kentucky to ten seasons where they won at least 22 games and ten seasons where they won at least 10 games in the league.
Matthew and his wife Jenna are very active in community service. In June of 2014, Matthew and Jenna pledged $1 million over the next 10 years to the University of Kentucky Athletics Department. Just a few months later, they launched The Mitchell Family Foundation, a non-profit organization set to benefit charities in the Lexington community. The first fund-raising event of the Foundation in September 2014 brought in renowned author and leadership expert, John C. Maxwell. In October of 2016, Matthew and Jenna were presented the 2016 Community Service Award by the National Urban League of Lexington.
Elzy spent four seasons at Kentucky from 2008-'12 before the Oldham Co. native left to coach at her alma mater, Tennessee. She then returned to Kentucky in the 2016-'17 season as Associate Head Coach.
She inherits a team that is ranked 11th in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 and has a one of the top players in the country with Rhyne Howard being a unanimous choice for preseason AP All-American.
Statement from Matthew Mitchell
“After much conversation with my family and Mr. Barnhart, I have decided to retire from coaching and effectively have resigned as head coach at Kentucky. This was a difficult decision and I know the timing is not ideal, but I do not feel I can give the job what it requires at this time. As has been much publicized, I have had an eventful offseason with my injury and subsequent surgery. I have been open about the fact 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. Although so much about today is sad because I will greatly miss the relationships and people that have constantly lifted up my family and me the last 13 years, I am resolute in my decision and comfortable with beginning the next chapter of my life. To the current players, thank you for all the support and love you have shown me, not only this year, but in years past. Each one of you has truly left a lasting impact on me and I will cherish our time together. To my former players, assistant coaches and support staff – each one of you has made me a better person and I will always extend a listening ear and encouraging word whenever you need it. I would be remiss if I also did not thank Mr. Barnhart, Lee T. Todd and Eli Capilouto for their commitment and support to women’s basketball at Kentucky and giving me a chance many years ago to be a part of this great university. To Big Blue Nation, 13 years ago you welcomed me and my family with open arms and Jenna and I are forever grateful. Kentucky is our home and this university and community are beautifully unique and special and we are so blessed to have this place in our lives. Finally, I want to thank Kyra Elzy, Niya Butts, Amber Smith, Amy Tilley and everyone in our current support staff for all of their hard work this offseason and preseason as the program navigated uncharted waters. I believe with every ounce of my heart that the greatest place for a young woman to go to college and become a better person ready to face what society has in store is at the University of Kentucky. I am steadfast in that belief because I know the people in this program spend every second of every day focused on how to make other’s lives better. Kyra has done an amazing job leading the program these past few months. She is one of the best coaches in college basketball and has displayed that throughout her career as a top-notch tactician, elite recruiter, and most of all, she is of the highest character. I have the utmost confidence in her to lead Kentucky women’s basketball into future success.”
Statement for Mitch Barnhart on Matthew Mitchell
“As our all-time winningest coach, Matthew Mitchell led us through so many of the great moments in the history of Kentucky basketball, with more than 300 wins, an SEC championship and numerous NCAA Tournament appearances. He has been a great ambassador for the University of Kentucky, on and off the court, bringing an energy and style of play that made it fun for players and fans alike. In addition, Matthew and Jenna have woven themselves into the fabric of the community with a tremendous generosity of time, treasure and spirit. Matthew, Jenna and their children always will be part of the Wildcat family and we wish them the very best as they enter the next stage of their lives.”
Statement from Interim Head Coach Kyra Elzy
“Coach Mitchell means so much to me and I owe him an enormous amount of gratitude for his guidance throughout my coaching career. This is not an easy day for any of us as we come to grips with his decision to retire. My immediate focus is on our players and making sure that they are dealing with this change that has happened so abruptly. As you can understand, this has been difficult for them to process. We met with the players and their families this evening and ensured them that this program will stand on the same principles moving forward. I want to thank Mr. Barnhart, President Capilouto and our administration for trusting me as the interim head coach. Coach Mitchell has set this program on a path for distinguished success, and as interim head coach, I promise that our staff will work tirelessly to make sure the program continues to build upon the success that Coach Mitchell has had at Kentucky.”
Statement from Mitch Barnhart on Kyra Elzy
“Kyra has been alongside Matthew for much of the success we’ve had and she is a proven teacher, leader and recruiter. We look forward to spending more time with her as she further develops her style and philosophy while leading us into the next chapter of Kentucky basketball.”