Barnhart addresses rumors, reports regarding Calipari, UK basketball program

“I do care deeply about Cal”
Mitch Barnhart (Credit: The Lexington Herald-Leader)
Mitch Barnhart (Credit: The Lexington Herald-Leader)(WKYT)
Published: Jan. 13, 2023 at 4:22 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Appearing Friday on Kentucky Sports Radio, UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart was asked about his relationship with men’s basketball coach John Calipari and to give his thoughts on the current basketball season.

“We’re not where we want to be,” Barnhart said. “Cal is a Hall of Fame coach and he’s been unbelievable in the past in finding a way to get our team better as we go through the season. We’re in a tough stretch right now and we’ve got to find our way through that.”

Cal’s current Cats are 10-6 overall, 1-3 in the SEC, with only Ole Miss (0-4) having a worse league record. Few UK fans expect their team to win on Saturday at Tennessee.

Barnhart said he talks with his coach frequently, dispelling any rumors of an icy relationship with Calipari. The AD attends practices and confers with the coach after most games.

“We come at the world from different lenses and different ways,” Barnhart said . “And because we’re different, I don’t think that necessarily means it bad.”

“At the end of the day, I do care deeply about Cal,” Barnhart added. “I want to make sure he knows how much we appreciate what he’s done here. He’s got probably one of the five or six hardest jobs in college sports.”

“I’ve seen Cal do this many, many times,” a hopeful Barnhart said. “I think back to the season we went to Dallas for the Final Four. We were in a similar spot mid-season. We were able to turn it around and get it going. So I have confidence that this guy has done it before and he can do it again.”

On whether changes need to be made within the basketball program, Barnhart said he doesn’t micromanage his coaches.

“They are the CEOs of their ship,” he said. “I don’t get into the daily grind of how they prepare and what they want to do. That’s what they do. That’s what they’re paid to do and they do it well.”

“I’m confident that Cal’s knows the buttons to push to get us to the right spot.”

In August, Calipari pushed for a new practice facility. The coach now famously said UK was a basketball school, in comparison to Alabama and Georgia, which he said were football schools.

Mark Stoops, UK’s football coach, bristled and fired back on Twitter.

At the time, Barnhart was finishing up the College Football Playoff meetings. Barnhart said he was returning to Lexington and reached out to Calipari.

“I said, ‘let’s stop the chatter. We didn’t need to get into more public debate,” Barnhart said. “I wanted the two guys to be able to work to get it put behind them, for to them to visit, and for them to move on. And they have done that.”

As for the practice facility that Calipari covets, Barnhart said it’s not as simple as raising the money and putting a shovel in the ground. He reminded listeners that since he became athletics director, UK has spent more than $500 million on facilities upgrades, which doesn’t include the $200 million used to renovate Rupp Arena.

A recent report indicates Calipari has raised $30 million for the project. Barnhart said he’s had a conversation with Calipari about a new facility, but never told the coach it couldn’t be built.

“That’s not in my DNA to turn away help for capital construction,” Barnhart said. “When you say you’ve got $30 million, you think you can do $30 million. Those are not pledges in hand. Those are things we hope to do together and get to a spot. Those processes, in construction, just for everyone’s information, are 18-24 month processes. So even if we started last summer, it would be 18-24 months away from that.”

Barnhart said along with funding, there’s a process for design, a master plan and a process for gender equity. Those pieces of the puzzle take time, he said.

“It wasn’t no. It was ‘here’s the process.’ At the end of the day, absolutely, we’d always welcome our coaches’ help in fund raising.”