Press Conference Coverage
Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart Quotes
“Hello everyone, thanks for coming on short notice. During my tenure here at Kentucky, I have watched and appreciated the passion Kentucky fans have for our basketball program. This is a cradle-to-grave love; it is deeply rooted and creates a sense of pride across the Commonwealth. Kentucky basketball influences when weddings are held and causes its followers to get in a car and drive 12 hours to Omaha on a Monday night. I also understand this rich and proud basketball program belongs to the people of Kentucky and its millions of fans around the world. Coach (Adolph) Rupp started something that is now bigger than any one person. Coaches, players and administrators get the privilege of serving this program simply as caretakers for a brief moment in its history. I will continue to maintain the principles we have established since coming here, most importantly ensuring the quality of the student-athlete experience. It is my responsibility to ensure that the University of Kentucky continues to be a special place in the hearts and minds of our fans across the nation, and that the right pieces are in place to return the basketball program to a championship level and continue those proud traditions of success.
“This is not a place I thought we would be at this point, or one that I would want to be. However, after long and deliberate discussions, President (Lee T.) Todd and I have decided we must charter a new direction for the University of Kentucky men's basketball program. Unfortunately there are times when a situation and the people involved do not create the right chemistry or right fit. It is our belief that is where we are and where we find ourselves with Kentucky basketball today. For that reason, we decided to not bring Coach Gillispie back to lead our men's basketball program. We firmly believe that moving in a different direction will be in the best interest of everyone involved with this program. It is my responsibility, and I understand that, to hire the coaches, a coach that embraces the fans and the national attention at Kentucky and is committed to the principles of our program. The University of Kentucky and its dedicated and passionate fans deserve a coach that understands that this is not just another coaching job. We obviously did not achieve the results we all desired on the floor this season. Those results can occur when you are trying to grow a program, we clearly understand that. However, it is as important to represent the Kentucky program and the basketball program, more specifically, in a manner which best utilizes our incredible tradition, assets and platform.
“It is my evaluation that we have not done all we can to manage the entire scope of the program and all that we expect. There is a clear difference in how the rules and responsibilities overseeing the program are viewed. It is a gap that I do not believe can be solved by just winning games. It is a philosophical disparity that I do not believe can be repaired and again, the chemistry is just not right. These situations are always very difficult and individuals and their families are traumatically impacted. I'm sorry for that. I would like to thank Coach Gillispie and his staff for the effort they gave the last two years. Billy has a great passion for the game of basketball and I truly wish him and his staff the best in the future.
“So now we must move forward. We will share some of the details of the search process as they develop and as we can. We understand the challenge and importance of finding our next caretaker for this very special basketball program. It is to be done with great concern for the welfare and image of the student-athletes, administration and students of the University of Kentucky, its fans and the people of the Commonwealth. Like everyone else who loves this program, we desire for Kentucky basketball to be a part of the championship picture every year; that is our goal. We will work to that end while representing the University of Kentucky with pride and professionalism. Thanks and I'd be glad to answer a few questions…”
When did you all first decide that the chemistry wasn't right?
“I don't know that I want to speak for the president so I'll let him answer that. It's something that you watch over a period of time. As this season came to an end, it became apparent that there were some dramatic differences in where we wanted to be. We have had some conversations over the last month and those were crystallized within the last week, and that's why we're here today.”
Do you regret hiring Billy Gillispie to be the men's basketball coach?
“No, it's my responsibility and I don't regret hiring Billy to be the basketball coach. He's a good basketball coach, but sometimes it's just not the right fit and that's my responsibility.”
What's the status of the buyout?
“Because we could never negotiate over two years or right at two years – a long-term contract, completed contract – we're living by the memorandum of agreement and that basically serves as a year-to-year contract. We'll be in contact with Billy's council to get a fair separation agreement.”
Will the buyout be $6 million?
“No. It's suffice to say it'll be less than that.”
When did you see that Gillispie wasn't the right fit?
“I think towards the end, especially when the comments were made that spoke to things that were not in his job description or it was just about winning and losing and recruiting. This program is bigger than that. There is much more to it than that. We've been clear about that from the beginning of our administration and when we went through the process last time we were very clear about that. As that became more crystallized, that became apparent that we had a bigger problem.”
Were there specific things that you felt like were not going in the direction you wanted to relative to student-athletes and the player experience?
“No, I just think that's something we always strive to do. That's paramount and of most importance every time that we put a team on the floor or put a team in the pool or wherever it happens to be. I think it's really important that we take good care of those kids first. I always want to make sure that is the first thing we mention and that's my responsibility as well.”
Are you concerned about the national perception of firing a coach after two years?
“I think our track record working with coaches and giving them a fair opportunity to achieve the things that we've asked is pretty good. With our football program, I think there was significant, significant outcry during Coach (Rich) Brooks' first few years that we had gone down the wrong path there. He has done a wonderful job of putting our program three years in a row in bowl games, and bowl wins with good recruiting. I don't think that we lacked any patience with that. It wasn't about winning and losing. It was about right chemistry, right fit, right direction. I don't think our track record needs any explanation on that.”
Was this an unwillingness of Gillispie to be the ambassador or did he just not do the job very well?
“I don't know how to respond to that other than to say it wasn't where we wanted it to be.”
Was there a stumbling block in the contract process that you wanted some of those issues addressed?
“I think that's a good part of it. When you clearly can't have any movement on a contract over a two-year period of time, it's clear that's a challenge. That's part of fitting into the climate or the area that you're living is understanding the things that are expected. Every coach that we have has a working contract that is very similar. There are similar things in there so it wasn't different from anything that we've gotten from 15 other coaches that have signed.”
Is there a successor in place or is a process going on right now?
“There is no successor in place and that process will obviously be getting started. I think that was one of the things that people were concerned about before. I've been in this league 19 years. I'm not unfamiliar with Kentucky basketball. I was at another school for 12 years and then I've been up here for seven years. I've watched Kentucky basketball for a long time in this league. I've been in this arena many, many, many times before I came to Kentucky. I have a great appreciation for what this basketball program means to the league, to our state and nationally, quite honestly. We had conversations before with a lot of people and got input from a lot of people. To help with some of those questions, (former UK standout) Mike Pratt, who of course is our color analyst, is going to work with us a little bit just to spend some time with some folks that might be interested talking about our basketball program.”
What part of the decision-making process did the parents have in it?
“I'm a parent of three children. Clearly you want your child to have a good experience. I'd be shocked if parents weren't always paying attention to things going on with their children. I didn't have conversations with parents. That did not factor in our decision where we were. It was just about the general climate and fit. I go back to what I said initially: We always want our student-athletes to have a great experience. That's important to us. That's not a negotiable deal. That's something that we've got to make sure they do.”
Do you feel like the student-athletes weren't having a good experience?
“There is a piece of everybody that always says winning will cure everything and winning makes a good experience, and there is some truth in that and that is part of the experience. There are other pieces to that. I also believe that they have a great responsibility to this program as well. I can't speak for them and that's something they would have to speak to rather than me. I can't speak for their experience. I just want to on general fit and chemistry for what we have in our program.”
When did Gillispie know you were actually going to terminate him?
“We talked this afternoon.”
What was Gillispie's reaction when you told him?
“He was disappointed and a little upset I'm sure. On the other side of that, it probably doesn't feel very good.”
Will you be interviewing any candidates this weekend?
“I don't think so at this juncture. I'm just trying to get through one day at a time right now and making sure that we address the needs of our program before we move on.”
Are you aiming for a settlement with Gillispie or are you prepared to go to court?
“We're willing to put together a fair settlement, a fair separation agreement and it's important to do that. We want to do that and we want to be fair about that.”
What was the reaction of the players?
“I talked to the players and we had a visit with them 15 minutes long. I think they're tired from the season and they're ready to get some rest and get a break. I didn't ask them to have an emotional reaction one way or the other. I just wanted to make sure (they knew) what was going on and what the next steps were. So that's where we left it with them, and I think most of them are trying to get out of town and go get some rest for the weekend. I wish them the best. They've given a lot of effort this year.”
Kentucky President Lee T. Todd, Jr. Quotes
On Mitch Barnhart…
“I'm thankful everyday this gentleman to my right is running this program. He catches a lot of heat and he gets questioned a lot, but I never doubted his integrity. I learned something this week, from someone who is pretty knowledgeable in basketball. They said to talk to such-and-such a person, and Mitch countered when we did our search two years ago, and said we talked with all of those people. Not everyone knows that. That points to integrity, because when you try to talk to some of these high-profile coaches, the last thing they want to do is disclose they are talking to you. After this two-year period, I don't think there is anyone in this room who knows how many people were addressed or talked to during that period. I respect his opinion and his evaluation. We know this is a hallmark program for this University, and it is in good hands with Mitch Barnhart as the Athletics Director. I appreciate him a lot and I probably don't tell him that enough.”
President Todd, Mitch talked about philosophical differences between the coach and administration. Can you talk about, in your mind, what those philosophical differences might be?
“The one that he [Mitch Barnhart] touched on was the lack of understanding that this job is a complete job. It includes a lot more than coaching and recruiting. It's like a president's job, nobody writes out exactly what you have to do, but there is a lot to it. Philosophically, we need someone who nurtures the entire Big Blue Nation, has a philosophy that this is a unique opportunity and job, and understands it is a lot broader than what happens on the floor.”
There were comments that he [Gillispie] was not an ambassador to the program. Is that what you are talking about?
“Partially, but you have to be an ambassador for this program. I get tickled at the e-mails I get from people telling me how long they have watched UK Basketball, and others who say they have recently become a Kentuckian. I have no doubt that the UK Basketball coach is much more popular than the President [of the University]. More people know that name, and there is a big responsibility with that.”
How much conversation was there about these responsibilities over the course of the two years? How much did you talk to Billy about your concerns?
“We had several conversations during the contract discussions and when you break down the compensation, a large portion of that comes from media contracts and the responsibilities there. In my mind, you don't have to spell out some of those issues, because that is where a lot of the support for the program comes. I didn't spend a lot of time with Coach except when we were trying to discuss contract issues. It is pretty clear that there are expectations of what you need to be doing when you are the Kentucky coach.”
President Todd, were there any off the court incidents in particular, or anything in general, that got him in trouble?
“No, there is no particular incident. There is nothing specific. It is a broader feeling and sense you have when you employ someone.”
President Todd, I'm not asking you to take a legal position, but what makes you think you won't owe the $6 million that is mentioned in the memorandum.
“The way we interpret it presently is that it is a year-to-year contract. There were issues that were mentioned in the memorandum of understanding that were never completed, because the full contract was never completed. We feel that is where we stand with that now. We don't have a completed contract, it was long term. If you read the memorandum of understanding, one of the first lines in one of the paragraphs says a seven-year contract will be negotiated. That never happened.”
Kentucky's prior position on that was that it was effectively a contract. Have you changed your interpretation of that?
“No, it was a one-year contract.”
Where does it say it is a one-year contract?
“That is an interpretation and you would have to let lawyers discuss the specifics of that. At that point in time, we had what we needed. If we couldn't get through the contract, we would live with the memorandum year-to-year.”
Do you believe Coach Gillispie's lawyers will interpret that differently?