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Mullens flew at Kentucky, will soar at Oregon thanks to roots

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Mullens_Rob 07_08 2x3.jpgMitch Barnhart celebrated an anniversary Thursday. On the eight-year mark of his hiring on July 15, 2002, Barnhart did something few people do on anniversaries.

Instead of receiving, he let go. In a way, he gave a gift to Oregon, bidding farewell with one of the fastest rising superstars in athletics administration.

On Thursday, deputy director of athletics at Kentucky Rob Mulllens left his eight-year stay in Lexington to fulfill a lifelong dream as an athletics director. Mullens accepted the vacant job at Oregon to become the athletics director at the Pacific-10 power.

"This is where you want to be when you work in our business and this is a tremendous opportunity," Mullens said at a news conference Thursday afternoon in Eugene, Ore. "Our family has invested in this lifestyle and our career and we have been very patient trying to find a place with the values and the systems that match our values and systems."

It was fitting in a way that Mullens' departure comes on the anniversary of Barnhart's arrival. As the symbol for change in 2002, when the department had just been hit with severe NCAA penalties for football violations, Barnhart stabilized the program.

One of those stabilizations was the hiring of Mullens. After graduating cum laude from West Virginia in 1991 with a degree in business administration, Mullens acquired his master's in 1993 and quickly moved his way up the athletics administration ladder.

Stops at West Virginia, Kentucky and Miami (Fla.) eventually landed Mullens the No. 2 post in the athletics administration at Maryland, where he was integral member of the management team that created and implemented a strategic vision that elevated Maryland Athletics to national prominence.

That eventually brought Mullens to Kentucky in 2002 where he served as executive associate director of athletics from 2002 to 2006 and deputy director of athletics from 2006-10. During his time at Kentucky, Mullens had a large hand in a highly successful era of Kentucky athletics, assisting Barnhart with the direction of the department and serving as chief operating officer.

As one can tell from that résumé, Mullens really owes no one for his success. He's been a superstar from day one and grew his wings all by himself.

But it can't go without noting that future athletics directors have earned their right to fly under Barnhart.

The hiring of Mullens marks the fifth former administrator under Barnhart to be named as an athletics director at a Bowl Championship Series school. Scott Stricklin, a former associate athletics director at Kentucky, was named athletics director at Mississippi State in May, replacing former UK assistant athletics director Greg Byrne, who is now the athletics director at Arizona. Oregon State athletics director Bob De Carolis worked for Barnhart at OSU from 1999-2002, when Barnhart served as athletics director for the Beavers. Current Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton worked under Barnhart at UT, while Barnhart was functioning as senior associate AD with the Volunteers.

"This also is a great compliment to Mitch Barnhart's leadership," said UK President Dr. Lee T. Todd, Jr. "Rob is now the third individual that has worked under Mitch at UK that has been hired as an athletic director at a BCS university.

As talented as those guys are, that's a track record for proven success, folks.

"I am ecstatic for Rob and his entire family," Barnhart said. "Rob has meant a remarkable amount to the University of Kentucky over the last eight years and the entire UK family is elated for him to have this opportunity. He is a tremendous visionary, a tireless worker and a true superstar in collegiate athletics. The University of Oregon made an exceptional hire in Rob Mullens and we wish him and his family nothing but the best as they embark on this new and exciting time."

With smiles abound and an Oregon pin fastened to his suit where a UK logo used to stick, Mullens credited his childhood at a university community as a big reason to being the first to graduate college and the backbone behind his rise to today's success.

"It really all started back in Morgantown, West Virginia with some people ... that hold a special place in my heart because they changed my life," Mullens said.

But he also pointed to his time at Kentucky as a big reason to landing the job at Oregon, thanking Barnhart and former UK football coach Rich Brooks in particular for helping him grow.

"Tremendous influence," Mullens said of Barnhart and Brooks. "Both of those people have played a key role in my life. Mitch brought me to the University of Kentucky. He's been a wonderful mentor and even greater friend. That's one of the tough parts about this. I had such a wonderful experience due in large part to Mitch and the opportunities that he provided me at the University of Kentucky."

It seems odd that two states that are separated by 2,000-plus miles and more than half the country are so connected.

Current UK baseball coach Gary Henderson grew up in Eugene, Ore., and coached at Oregon State. Mullens said Henderson often talked to him about his affinity and love for the state of Oregon. While Barnhart was never part of the Oregon administration, he previously served as the athletics director at Oregon State.

And then there is Brooks. Similar to the transformation Brooks built at Kentucky this decade, he did the same on the West Coast for the Ducks, taking the football program to a Rose Bowl bid in 1994. Mullens said Brooks played a huge part in his ascension to the AD job at Oregon.

"The list of first-evers under Rich Brooks in Kentucky football are incredible," Mullens said. "Through that, there were so many life lessons. I grew close with him. He played a key role in my interest in the University of Oregon. ... He was a tremendous asset to me in life at Kentucky and specifically in this role. Both (Brooks and Barnhart) have been key mentors for me and I appreciate everything they've done. I don't know how I can ever repay them but I'll sure try."

Mullens might be a Duck now, but for the people that worked with him on a daily basis at Kentucky, he will forever be remembered as a Wildcat.  I am sure he will always remember his time in Lexington fondly as well (which was pretty apparent when Mullens slipped up in Thursday's news conference and started to call the University of Oregon the University of Kentucky).

Congratulations to Rob Mullens. Thursday might have marked the eight-year anniversary of Barnhart's hiring, but if you know of or worked with Mullens, you know Thursday was a day for everyone to celebrate.

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