Barnhart: "Tubby's Our Basketball Coach"

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Tubby Smith has good reason to believe Kentucky wants him to return next season.

"Tubby's our basketball coach," athletic director Mitch Barnhart told The Associated Press on Monday. "He's done a great job of representing the platform of Kentucky basketball. We'll always look to make adjustments to the things we've got to do to get better. Tubby and I will do that collectively."

Amid weeks of speculation that Smith was on his way out, Barnhart stopped short of saying the coach would remain in charge of the Wildcats. The AD acknowledged, however, that fans had misinterpreted a statement by him as meaning a coaching change was near.

"They were reading way too much into that," Barnhart said, referring to the statement that urged fans to wait until the postseason before making judgments on the state of the team.

The Wildcats (21-11) are a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. Kentucky plays Villanova in the first round on Friday.

Kentucky is the winningest team in college basketball team history and boasts seven national championships - the latest in 1998 in Smith's first year on the job. The team hasn't been back to the Final Four since and has amassed double-digit losses two straight years and five times under Smith. Some fans critical of Smith have nicknamed him "Ten-loss Tubby."

Barnhart said he and Smith would sit down after the season to discuss changes. He declined to say whether any assistants might be replaced.

"His winning percentage is .700-plus," Barnhart said. "Since I've been here, we've won a couple conference championships, been to two Elite Eights, we've been the number one seed twice. We've had a couple years here that have been a little un-Kentuckylike, but I don't think that's a reason to panic or put ourselves in a position where we're not making objective calls in terms of the things we need to do to be better."

Barnhart said that high school recruits looking at Kentucky should have no reason to believe Smith won't be their coach. Recruiting stability was part of the reason he extended football coach Rich Brooks' contract after last season, when the Wildcats won the Music City Bowl.

Even after Barnhart released his statement last month when the Wildcats were in the midst of losing four out of five games, Smith said he felt he had the administration's support.

"I'm not going to defend my record or anything else," Smith said at the time. "But I guess Mitch felt like he needed to make a comment, from what I understand. I'm sure he gets calls just like everybody else."

Barnhart explained Monday he released the statement as an answer to media requests and didn't intend to suggest Smith's job was in danger if the Wildcats didn't finish strong.

"I just globally wanted people to understand, look, we're paying attention," Barnhart said. "We'll make the adjustments at the end of the year we need to make and we'll get on with it. By not saying something, everybody, I think, would have thought we didn't care or we weren't paying attention to the things that were going on in our program."

Barnhart said he understands fan criticism, but is disturbed it often gets personal.

"What bothers me most is people can be very disrespectful to people as human beings," he said. "I feel bad for coaches when they're not treated as human beings. ... I hope that Tubby knows there's a large number of people out there that love him, that think highly of him and his family - the way they have represented Kentucky."