Mitch Barnhart Part 1: Building a Stadium, Establishing a Legacy for Entire UK Campus


LEXINGTON, Ky. — The University of Kentucky's Mitch Barnhart recently won the NCAA Division I Athletics Director of the Year Award — not an award he set out to win, but one he deserves for his tireless efforts at the helm of UK Athletics.

Since his arrival in 2002, Barnhart has worked toward his vision of distinguishing UK Athletics as one of the best athletic departments in the nation.

To that end, in November 2008, Barnhart established the 15 by 15 by 15 Plan, which called for UK Athletics to finish in the top 15 of national all-sports standings, win 15 conference or national championships and achieve a 3.0 department-wide grade-point average by the year 2015, all while expanding the department's service efforts in the community. After the men's basketball team claimed the SEC Tournament championship in March 2015, Barnhart's plan had been completed.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Barnhart has eagerly issued the next challenge — it's called 1-3-5 Elite.  This plan envisions that by the year 2022 all of UK’s 22 teams will win a conference or national championship, there will be a department-wide grade-point average of 3.0 for UK student-athletes every semester, and all UK athletic teams will pursue a top-five Directors’ Cup finish in the next seven seasons.

Even as he pursues national recognition and excellence for the department, Barnhart never forgets his commitment to the university and its goals. He takes pride in making sure his athletes are just as successful in the classroom as they are in their athletic careers, and he has implemented new goals every year to prepare student-athletes for success far after their athletic journey ends.

"One year from now we will be celebrating a successful year at our renovated Commonwealth Stadium, but because of Athletics we will also be opening an academic science building to which Mitch Barnhart and that department pledged well over $60 million," said UK President Dr. Eli Capilouto.

The new Academic Science Building, scheduled to open Fall 2016, is the result of a unique partnership between UK Athletics and UK Administration —  a partnership even more remarkable in the context of how self-sustaining UK's program is compared to a majority of others nationwide.

"This project would never have gotten where it is without the support of the campus and without the support of Dr. Capilouto," said Senior Associate A.D. for Capital Projects Russ Pear. "I think the partnerships we created to get the bonding authority — together with our contribution to the science building — is something you wouldn't find at too many universities." 

The transformation within UK Athletics does not simply center around facilities, though. Most agree there has been a cultural shift since Barnhart took the helm 14 years ago. 

Tomorrow on uknow.uky.edu, Part 2 of this special series will focus on Mitch Barnhart, not just as a leader but as a mentor and friend.  Current and former student-athletes, the president who hired him and even UK Athletics staff members from near and far will share why Barnhart is all about 'People, Passion and Pride' as he continues to transform the culture of the program.