UK's Barnhart the right man for the job

Another day and another negative story directed toward University of Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart and the football program. <br><br> Making sure no stone has been left unturned, this week's edition of "Mitch bashing" explores a new side of Barnhart as it relates to his decision two years ago to hire coach Rich Brooks.

His character.

Yet instead of defending the former Oregon State athletic director, many UK fans have sided with what appears to be an anti-UK newspaper because of frustrations surrounding this year's dismal football season.

Three words - shame on you.

Let me start by saying I don't know Mitch Barnhart personally. We've never had dinner together or played golf. I see him and his family at church, but I've never sat next to him.

You could say I don't know him, but in a way, I do.

Barnhart is a perfectionist - at his job, at being a husband, at being a father - and most recently, in his faith. Both in himself and to God.

He does his job - each passing day - to the best of his ability, celebrating more successes than failures and more wins than losses. Despite his accomplishments, it is his boss who reminds him of that one slip up.

Sound familiar? It should, because it's someone you know - you.

Although your boss probably isn't nearly as influential as the thousands of fans UK's athletic director must answer to. Still, we have a common bond.

That's why it is troubling to see that many have turned on the once beloved choice from Oregon State, at a time when UK fans should be rallying around him.

Although consistently beaten down by the press, run through the mud by the G.O.B. network and asked to apologize for his incompetence because he cares not to defend himself - Barnhart still is the answer for UK. He was when he was hired, and he still is today.

The difference between then and now is one decision in late December 2002. Although your opinion might have changed, his title has not.

Athletics. Nobody has done better at managing the program than him.

As the football season continues in a downward spiral, the Big Blue Nation has been influenced by the loudest of voices.

Barnhart, these days, is the target. Since I doubt he'll defend himself, I'll do it for him.

"The one thing you have to be is consistent; and he has," Tubby Smith said of Barnhart. "What you see is what you get with him. Not only is he holding coaches and athletes accountable, but everybody, from top to bottom."

Smith and the basketball program should know. Since Barnhart became athletic director two years ago, the basketball team has lost only nine games. Prior to Barnhart's arrival, the basketball team had lost nine or more games in four straight years.

The basketball program also had not won an outright SEC Eastern Division title prior to Barnhart's arrival, yet has been crowned each season since he's been in Lexington. Recruiting has improved - just look at Kentucky's current top-ranked class - and the future of the program has been secured with Barnhart signing architect Smith to a contract extension prior to the 2004 season.

And basketball was considered to be the program Barnhart didn't have to improve; baseball and W=women's basketball were.

Both have experienced coaching changes since Barnhart's arrival and both have seen significant improvement in a short time.

Women's basketball finished 16th nationally in attendance and owned the largest leap in attendance average from the previous season. The Wildcats' home attendance was second to only Tennessee among Southeastern Conference teams. DeMoss' staff carried the excitement to UK's first ever top-10 recruiting class in 2004, signaling the arrival of the program.

Head baseball coach John Cohen was successful in his first attempt on the recruiting circuit as well. The former Mississippi State standout hauled in the nation's 25th-ranked recruiting class in 2004, adding depth and speed across the diamond. The UK baseball team continues to improve under Cohen. Stated coach Pat McMahon of Florida following his latest appearance in Lexington -

"Kentucky is definitely a better ball club with John. The future of SEC Baseball is gonna be in Lexington as long as John is here."

Under Barnhart, men's soccer, women's and men's tennis, swimming and diving, rifle and cross country continue to improve despite critics who've insisted each respective sport had peaked.

"He has a sincere concern for each sport (UK has 22) to do well," Smith said. "He hasn't been a football AD or a basketball AD. He's been an AD. He's very visible.

"Any event on campus. He at least makes an appearance to see how things are going. And that's very different around here. And that makes a difference."

Yes it does.

Perhaps no program has turned around as much as the men's golf team. Coach Brian Craig has turned a once-mediocre program into one of the nation's best. Only a collapse in the final round stood between the Cats and a national championship this year.

But many don't realize any of this, or Barnhart's role in it.

The disappointment of this football season has carried over to the overall athletic program and in particular - the office of the athletic director.

Was Brooks the right man for the job? Time will tell. But as our fine university heads into the future with high hopes and aspirations for its athletic teams, should fans push away the athletic department's greatest asset?

That's for you to decide. For character, for heart, for what the university needs at this point in its history - I choose Mitch Barnhart.

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