June 13, 2011
LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky softball coach Rachel Lawson, who led the Wildcats to a school record 40-win season and its first-ever NCAA Super Regional appearance last month, has been rewarded a new five-year contract worth a total of $727,500, plus the opportunity for performance-based incentives, UK Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart announced Monday.
“We are excited that Rachel will be a part of the Wildcat family for many years to come,” Barnhart said. “She has done a remarkable job in building our softball program and creating a foundation for a successful future at the University of Kentucky.”
“We are thrilled that Rachel and her staff will continue to lead the UK softball program to new heights that we've never experienced before,” said John Cropp, UK associate athletics director for administration. “Rachel and her staff are the hardest working group that I've ever been around. Even more importantly, they care about young people and their development. It is always a total team approach in everything they do."
During Lawson's tenure, UK has improved drastically in every phase of the game. The 2011 Kentucky softball team finished its most successful season in school history with the program's first appearance in the NCAA Super Regionals. Kentucky performed admirably in front of more than 1,700 fans at the UK Softball Complex there to share in the excitement of another budding program in the Commonwealth.
The Wildcats' run included its first 40-win season in school history, appearing in the national rankings for a school-record 14 consecutive weeks, defeating 12 top-25 ranked teams, capturing a school-best five Southeastern Conference series, becoming one of just 31 teams in the nation to advance to the NCAA Tournament in three straight seasons and shattering 12 single-season records.
“I want to thank UK and specifically Mitch Barnhart for providing me the opportunity to extend my career in a profession that I love at an incredible university,” Lawson said. “I also want to thank my coaching staff, my athletes and all of the other staff members that work daily with softball and who have created a winning mindset within the softball program.
“Finally, I would like to thank all the men and women who work at UK and all the fans who came out and have supported the Wildcats in many ways throughout our program’s tenure and during Super Regionals. To see the massive amount of work that was put in to make the Supers a reality in Lexington and then to witness the fan support over the weekend was a highlight in my athletes’ lives and a moment I will never forget. I truly believe it is the people who create a winning tradition and because of this, I feel good about the future of the University of Kentucky softball program.”
Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart
Opening statement …
“Obviously, we are here to talk about Kentucky softball today and this is probably a mid-summer activity that we haven’t had in recent history, which is a cool thing. For those that are new to our history, three years in a row we have been to the regional in Rachel’s (Lawson) direction and we have been very fortunate that she has led our program to places we haven’t been before. This year, we were fortunate to host a Super Regional and we had record crowds out there and did some things to our stadium that we didn’t even recognize, which is another point of conversation as we go forward. We are here today to announce a contract extension for Rachel and for her contributions for our program and the direction that we are going from here. The details of which have been released to you guys and you have all that.
“I will say that I came nine years ago to Kentucky and there were people here that had invested time into Kentucky softball, but unfortunately the results hadn’t even begun to come close to what Rachel has done during her time here. She came to us obviously from Western Kentucky and it has been a fast track in the last four years for us to get to a spot where now we are a national conversation. I know that coach has been talked about for a lot of jobs all over our league and all over the country. She is a person that has made a name for our program but also herself and she is very deserving.
“The team has been a team that models what you want a team to model. They have been the consummate student-athletes and she is an educator. She is a teacher of the game and when the team takes the field they do it with class and they represent the jersey incredibly well. Not only do they do that, but they find ways to win. She has developed an identity for our program which we are very fortunate for.
“The last couple of things I will talk about, and I told her I was going to embarrass her a little bit because she is worthy of embarrassment. She has done remarkable things in the community that she doesn’t ever take credit for and she doesn’t tell very many people about it. I won’t go through a bunch of that stuff but the things she does on her days off are different. We will leave it at that. But I am thankful that she is in our community. She is good for Lexington, Ky., and good for the university community. I am very, very proud to have her working in our department.
“The last two things that I will say are about her loyalty. Even within the last week to two weeks and even the last 48 hours, she has been a topic of conversation at a lot of different places. I always hear people say that it is not about money, it’s not about this and not about that. You find the true measure of a person when you get into those moments and decision spots and they are hard because they are life changing and they move people to different spots in their lives in a lot of different ways, whether it be a financial move, or it be a emotional move. I always knew who Rachel Lawson was and I felt like we knew the last four years that she has been here (who she was as a person) but we know now truly that we have a special, special person amongst us and we are very fortunate. My boss at Tennessee was a guy named Doug Dickey and he used to say that you always want people in your department that you can stand to look at every day and come around every day and walk through your door every day. I can tell you, she makes our department a lot better because she comes around every day. When she comes around it is a good thing, it is pleasurable and she makes you feel good that you are working at Kentucky. I think she does that with our recruits and our student-athletes as well. She does a great job of representing our university. I thank her for that and I congratulate her on extension and let her know how much we appreciate her being here and being our softball coach. We look forward to the things she will do in the next five years and beyond.”
On if softball facility upgrades are in the works …
“We have a responsibility there. We have a feasibility study out there now and I just checked my calendar and we are supposed to get those results back in the next week or two and we will have a conversation about what those look like. Rachel and I talked about that on the phone quite a bit over the last two or three weeks. What you saw at the Super Regional and if that is any indication of what the fan interest is for women’s softball for our institution it’s a great sign. We had over 1,700 people out there for the Super Regional and it was fun. It was a great atmosphere and it is not always a perfect weather day in Lexington for softball, but it is amazing how many fans have come out. We have had great crowds for SEC weekends and it is our responsibility to go get that thing done. We are going to look at the feasibility study and jump on it hard. We think we can do some things and we have talked about where the facility sits right now and as it plays it that it sits in a pretty good spot. The field is a great surface and we don’t have to redo all that if we leave it there, extend fences and we have a scoreboard in our plans for next year already. What that means around the periphery we are not for sure just yet. We are going to get all that and she (Rachel) is a huge piece of what we do there. If she wants to make it a 300-foot fence then that is fine. I am great with that. We are the shortest porch in the SEC I would say right now, probably, and we have to figure out what they looks like. Clearly, the media attention that came with the Super Regional will continue to grow. It is our responsibility to see how to get some things on the air in terms of radio and what we do to continue to grow that fan base. Then we have to do something with that hitting area down there and get that bigger and enclosed for them. Those are all things that are in the plans and we have to figure out how that plays out in the best way for Rachel going forward with the team. Absolutely it is on the docket and our responsibility to get that done.”
On what he saw in Coach Lawson four years ago when he first hired her …
“I remember sitting out at my house and sat at my dining room table and visited for a while. The thing that everybody, whether she remembers it or not, was pretty consistent that she was one of the most competitive people you will ever see and one of the most honest people you will ever meet. Both of those things have been born to be true. Her word is solid. You get what you earned most of the time in life and she has earned everything that she has gotten. I can’t speak to her family history and she can’t speak to mine, but we all grew up differently. She grew up in a family of 12 and I am sure that it didn’t come easy. She has earned her way to this spot in the Southeastern Conference and at the University of Kentucky being the head softball coach with this kind of a package. She is incredibly competitive. I walked into the dugout with Dr. (Lee T.) Todd after the Super Regional and we listened to her address her team. In a really difficult moment, she handled it with incredible class, understanding the emotions of going through four seniors, who are walking away from Kentucky softball having built a program. I always laugh at people who don’t think it means a much to those four seniors versus the 21 football seniors we have walking off the field for the last time, or the three basketball players or whatever it happens to be. I watched the emotion in the dugout and how difficult it was and how she handled it. That is what we saw in Rachel when we interviewed her four years ago. I can’t say that we had great vision and saw all of that, but we saw enough to know and we had heard enough for enough people. I felt that she was the right person for the job and she has not disappointed at all. I don’t want to say she has exceeded expectations, but under-promised and over-delivered. I’m not for sure how you say that. She has been very, very special to our program. You look for people that make your job pleasurable to deal with and you enjoy working with them day-to-day and she is top shelf and one of those you appreciate every day.”
Head Coach Rachel Lawson
Opening statement …
“You know I’m from a family of 12, and I didn’t tell Mitch (Barnhart) this story. So, I’m the ninth girl. So, you can imagine. My father was a man’s man, so you know what that means. So I remember being a little kid, and my sisters would go off to college, and surprisingly he was a visionary for women. He would probably roll over if he heard me say this. I remember when one of my sisters would say that they were going into psychology, and my dad would be like ‘You are not going into psychology, you could not feed yourself.’ And then the next one would be a teacher, and he would say ‘Teachers are so undervalued, you are not going into teaching’, and then here comes the next one, and she wants to be a nurse. He would say ‘Nope. Nurses always get abused by the doctors.’ Pretty much everyone in my family went on to business school. Now, mind you that we have a nurse and a psychologist and a teacher and all sorts of things, so nobody listened to him. When I was a little kid, I didn’t know what I needed to do, but I knew I needed to support myself and make a lot of money. Even though they say it’s not about the money, this is obviously a huge opportunity for me. This is obviously by today’s standards a lot of money for a female in the athletic world, and I think it’s really important to show how far women’s athletics has come. It is going to make my life better, and the lives of everyone around me a lot better. But, just to see how far the world has come, I think that is really important as well. Hopefully it will continue to move in that direction so I’m pretty psyched about that.”
On what the initial contract’s net worth was …
“You know, honestly, I don’t even know. I remember I didn’t have to eat bologna sandwiches every day, and I didn’t have to worry about paying my rent. You know, its funny because I had somebody ask me today if there was a buyout clause in my contract, and I said ‘I haven’t even read the fine print, and I forgot to make a copy before I signed it.’ The coolest thing about my previous contract (was) Mitch (Barnhart) took a chance on me. He took a big chance on me four years ago. I’ll be honest with you. I had great administration at Western (Kentucky), and I was happy there. We were well supported for that and the level of school. They were great people. He took a big chance on me when a lot of people probably wouldn’t have. I am just happy that we are starting to see a return on that investment. Hopefully we will continue to move forward because sometimes I think people forget and they start to listen to all the hype sometimes. I think it’s important to remember how you got there, and the people that helped you get to this point. I’m excited, but I do know after every year, and especially my first year, where I knew our team was getting better, but we did not win many games. It was painful. I remember he even gave me back that year, so each year he has extended my contract. That was very important to me as well. I think it’s a great time in Kentucky Softball. I think that hosting Super Regional’s was huge. I think a lot of people in Lexington, its surrounding community, and in Kentucky really started to appreciate the sport. Kentucky sports are the best fans in the country, and softball fans are also the best fans in the country, and when you can combine the two, that’s going to be a pretty cool thing. I think for the first time, a lot of people who have never watched softball before are now watching it, and those people bleed blue.”
On if she had opportunities to move on to a different school …
“Technically, no, I didn’t have any other opportunities because I didn’t entertain any other opportunities. I think the thing that wanted me to stay here was two-fold. Again, I think it’s important that Mitch (Barnhart) sees a return on his investment. As much as I think I have done a good job, I think coach (Kristine) Himes has done a good job here as well. We would have never had that opportunity had (Mitch Barnhart) not given me that opportunity four years ago. I am a much better coach now than I was then, but the reason I am a much better coach is that I have been coaching in the SEC. If I wasn’t in the SEC, and I didn’t go up against (Tim) Walton, (Partick) Murphy, (Lu) Harris, the Weeklys’, and Yvette (Giraud) if I did not go up against them, then we would not be winning. I think that in fairness to them, because I have gotten that opportunity, I am better. I think I need to move it forward. I think the other thing is the team. Coach (Kristine) Himes said this two months ago. I could see where things were headed, but she said ‘You have convinced all of these kids to come here without a facility, and I have a hard time seeing you bail now.’ I think she is right. (Kristine Himes) knows me well. I love the people around me here. The administration is great here. I love the people that work here. You have marketing, you have media relations, field house, field crew, and compliance. I know I haven’t listed everybody, and I would like too, but the people matter to me. I do see value with people. It might not have monetary value to some people, it has huge value to me. Finally, I think about Rachel Riley. She is by far the most competitive person on my team, and the thing I wish was more like Rachel Riley would make me go to an institution that has better facilities. For me, my goal is to be on even footing with (Tim) Walton, and (Patrick) Murphy, and Lu (Harris), and the Weeklys’, and all them. That is my goal. With that said, I think we can do it here at Kentucky. I just want to shoot that back to Rachel Riley. I am staying here because of that other quality that I have, and I think that match is pretty cool.”