Dec. 19, 2012
LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky volleyball coach Craig Skinner, who has led his team to eight consecutive NCAA Tournaments including back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances, has been rewarded with a new six-year contract worth a total of $1,125,000, plus the opportunity for performance-based incentives, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart announced on Wednesday.
"We are excited that Craig will be a part of the Wildcat family for many years to come," Barnhart said. "He has done a terrific job in building our volleyball program into national prominence and we are looking forward to continued success in the future and working with him to pursue the championships that our staff and student-athletes desire."
During Skinner's tenure, UK has advanced to the NCAA Tournament in all eight seasons, a feat only 14 other teams in the nation have achieved. The 2012 squad advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season and the third time in four years. The Wildcats hosted the NCAA First and Second Rounds and have hosted a portion of the tournament in four of the last five seasons. UK is slated to host an NCAA Regional for the second time in three years in 2013.
Under Skinner's tutelage, the Wildcats have amassed more than 170 victories, finished fifth or better in the Southeastern Conference standings every season, registered 20 or more wins in five of the last six seasons, earned 13 All-America selections, have had 30 All-SEC selections, earned six Player of the Year honors, three players have been named the SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year and UK has tallied 50 All-SEC Academic team honors. Furthermore, Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum has been ranked in the top 25 nationally in attendance in five consecutive seasons.
"I can't thank Mitch, (Associate AD for Development) Katie (Eiserman) and our administration enough for their trust in me to lead this program for the foreseeable future," Skinner said. "(My wife) Megan and I love being a part of this department and especially this program, and we're both ecstatic we will raise our family in this community.
"We have a great staff that is looking forward to going out and finding the best players in the country to help along with our returning group of players in continuing to solidify Kentucky volleyball as an elite program in the country."
Visit UKathletics.com for the most up-to-date information on the UK volleyball team. For additional coverage of the volleyball squad be sure and check out CatScratchesBlog.com/volleyball.
Media Opportunity - Dec. 19, 2012
UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart
Opening statement …
"Just as a frame of reference, we are here to celebrate and thank Craig (Skinner) for an incredible eight years of growth in our program. So, I will start on that premise and say as you build programs, its really hard. It is really hard to grow something from a spot and continue to maintain excellence. It is really hard. What Craig has done from the outset to take Kentucky volleyball and put us on the map in terms of not only in the league, but nationally has been nothing short of amazing for eight years. There has been no drop off in what he has done. It has been rock solid. He and I have chatted the last couple of week and talked about the journey of Kentucky Athletics in total. He and I have chatted about running marathons and things like that. It is a 26-mile race, and sometimes it is broken down into two components. The first 20 is really, really hard and the last six is when you go in there and see if you can get it done. The first 20 is really hard because of all the training and all of the sudden you have a chance to go finish the race. That is sort of what Craig has done here. He has built an unbelievable eight-year run of multiple 20-win seasons and if you read the numbers it is pretty staggering when you think about it from the get-go. 180 wins and 76 losses, been to the (NCAA) Tournament all eight years, one of only 14 teams to appear in all of the last eight (NCAA) Tournaments, 17 or more wins is all eight seasons, 20 or more wins in the last five of six seasons. We are talking about 13 All-America selections the last six years, one of just 16 teams to have an All-America selection each of the last six years, 30 All-SEC selections, six Player of the Year honors including Stephanie Klefot, and then three-straight Libero of the Year accolades. I can go on, he has been coach of the year in our league, and academically they have been an outstanding team away from the floor. They have done a great job in the classroom, never have had to question that, so he has challenged our kids academically as well and they have been good citizens for our program. We are very, very fortunate in that.
"Having said all of that, what ends up happening is as other people pursue greatness, and we pursue greatness, other people pursue us. They try and come after what they deem to be really, really quality people and what we want to do is preventative maintenance so to speak. We don't want to let that happen. So it's our goal for Kentucky not to be a transition place where people transition from our program to something even better. We want to make this a place where people think they can be great and so in an effort to keep greatness here, we put something together for Craig and Megan (Skinner) to show our appreciation for the eight years they have given us and hopefully the two of them and their three children for a long time. That's our goal. So in doing that, we have put together a six-year deal for Craig that is currently planned for June 30, 2019, so we are planning that far out. We have some of our coaches at that length and we wanted Craig to be one of those folks and thank him for a job well done. In an effort to make this a destination for him and his family and to let him know what a great job he has done so far. So, that's where we are. Having said all that, I want to thank he and Megan and it doesn't go without people like her. Spouses sometimes get forgotten in how much they give to it and how hard they work. It's a hard deal. We appreciate them very, very much and congratulate them on this day and we are very thankful for their commitment to Kentucky and we look forward to celebrating many more things moving forward."
On other schools pursuing Coach Skinner …
"I will say this, there is not a year that goes by that Craig's name isn't mentioned somewhere. We're crazy if we think it's not going to happen. You don't look down the list, as an athletic director, you look at the list, if you are going to change coaches, or you are looking for a coach you look and see who has done what. Who's in that circle of teams that you want to look at? Craig's name is going to be on every single one of those lists, there is no question about that. He came to Kentucky in 2005 and our history in volleyball has been sketchy, we had done some things in a previous lifetime and then we sort of took a break and then Craig came in and right out of the shoot put us in a position of being able to get to the tournament. That is not unrecognized in this possession. The challenge is, sometimes in our community we don't recognize it and to be honest with you, you go eight straight years and everybody goes, 'he's in it again.' It becomes sort of nonchalant and you take it for granted. What we don't want to do is ever take it for granted. Have people pursued Craig, I have no idea what all those conversations look like but we're foolish to think he's not on a lot of people's radar screen. We want to prevent that from happening, we don't want to give him any reason to go out there and pursue that. We want him here at Kentucky. He's an important part of us."
On coach Skinner being the longest tenured coach he has hired …
"In terms of that, it's important. As I've said at other things, you get in the trenches with people and you're in with them, it gets personal. When you're standing in the hallway outside the locker room when you lose in the NCAAs and you see how hard they poured themselves into this deal and what it means. I think that slips away from us sometimes. We see the result on the paper and we tend to walk away from it, our coaches go home with it. So you get into it with those folks and see how much it means to them and you get invested in that. For all of us that have enjoyed Craig and Megan (Skinner) in this community and the friendships they have created. It goes beyond volleyball, they are part of our community and that is important to us. You get to the volleyball piece and you're in it, competing with them, it's important. You get to a level of comfort with them where you know they want to achieve great things and do will really great things and why give that up to go to an unknown. We don't want to do that, we want to stay with what we know. Again, we all know how special Lexington is, they know how special Lexington is and this university is so why change what we are doing? We try to make this a very special university and the Skinners are a part of that."
Opening Statement …
"This isn't the first time Mitch (Barnhart) has extended my contract, but this is the first time where I feel like I didn't want it to be about me. I wanted this to be more about the program, kids, players, all of those things. I have always been appreciative of Mitch extending my contract each and every year, but currently just want to thank Mitch and Connie (Barnhart). They have been with us though this whole thing from in 2005 where they were very knowledgeable in the volleyball world with two daughters that play and maybe too knowledgeable. I also want to thank Dr. (Eli) Capilouto for trusting him and myself, the leadership of this staff and where we are going. I think we are continuing to grow in our sport and evolving, especially here and across the country. We want to be a leader in terms of what we do and how we put volleyball nationally and also locally here in the city and the Commonwealth. That is very important to us and I appreciate their trust. I also want to thank Katie Eiserman, who worked with us through this process and all of the administration and all the extended staff that make a big impact on what we do. It always continues to be about the whole package and everyone involved.
"We can't do the things we want to do without all of the people involved. Megan and I came here to Lexington wanting to raise our kids and come to a great place and we are grateful to have the opportunity to do that. Obviously, I need to thank Megan for the countless hours with the kids and countless hours on the road and how difficult it is in the profession we are in because it is not easy. Without her support and her knowledge of coaching in general, I'm not sure we could do it all the time. I love going to work with my staff every day, Keith (Schunzel), Lindsey (Gray-Walton), Mandy (Robbe), Kyle (Walton), and Brett (Versen). We have a great staff and in my opinion one of the best staffs in the country and a place people want to come and most importantly, our players. They are the ones that want to accept our challenges and be pushed and want to be challenged each day. The past players who have played for us, the current players and the future players really make it fun and exciting for our fans to come and watch. That's why we do it everyday. Like Mitch said, we came to build a program. And not just a team, not just to win, not just little things here and there, but a complete program of national relevance. We are on our way. We are doing some special things, we have done some great things and we want to continually compete for championships each and every year, we want to make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament each year and be nationally recognized as the landscape of volleyball changes with the conferences changing. We want youth volleyball to continue to grow like it has around this city and the Commonwealth. I have said this before, but I am blown away by the number of high school athletes playing sports on the female side, the number one sport participated in is volleyball, and if you would have asked me that eight years ago, I would have said there is no way that is possible. But, that is the case right now. That is very important to our players so they understand we are role models going forward. Our university and our fan base that bought in, I feel like they have bought in to what we do. It is not just ourselves, our staff, our players, but people want to see us be successful. Most importantly, we are not finished. Mitch and I talk about this all of the time, but we want to continue to go forward. I want Kentucky volleyball to be considered an elite program in the country, and again it's a program that athletes aspire to be a part of, but ones that the fans continually come and watch in terms of numbers, people want to come and watch this sport right here. It's a very exciting time at the University of Kentucky because of all the success that we have had in teams the last few years and the exciting thing that is happening in football right now. Our program can't thank enough programs like football and basketball who provide the revenue sources of things that we need to do. Again, I want to thank Mitch, Connie and Dr. Capilouto for allowing Megan and I to be part of this great place for several more years."
On other schools pursuing him …
"There has been more interest in others, but this is where I want to be. This is where I want to coach, this is where I want to raise my family and be with my wife. When people show interest, it's like a recruit, that's kind of exciting but at the same time it is important for me to look at this program as a piece of who we are and if people are interested that's great but this is where we are."
On the difference between this extension and his previous extensions …
"Just the longevity of being able to make a push for even more national prominence and stability in this profession and stability in what we are doing here at Kentucky. From where we were in 2005 to where we are now is a significant jump. Going to the next level is big jump and I want our current players, our future recruits, our incoming players to understand, we've done great things but if we're satisfied with that then I don't want you to be part of this program. I want people to be part of this program to compete with (National Champion) Texas, to compete with the best teams in our league, to compete with teams going to the Final Four and it takes a heavy investment from myself, our players and a joint relationship with our administration to make that next pitch."
On narrowing gap in the national picture …
"Well, we all become a lot better coaches when we have great players. Recruiting is everything. You need difference makers to get through the regionals, you need difference makers to win championships and we're continually seeking those players. There is a lot of competition for those people in our league and the major conferences around us so that is obviously very important. We have a great class coming in and we're looking at some great players down the road. The next thing is, we have to be very efficient offensively to score more points. We think we need to go a little faster so we can kill the ball more efficiently at a higher level. You look at Oregon, they averaged 15.5 kills a set, we averaged 14. Is it the speed, is it the pace, is it who is attacking the ball, is it where you're attacking the ball along the net, there are so many different variances. Defensively, we've always been pretty solid and we'll never go away from that but scoring points and stopping people at the same time and being physical, those three things at the regional level is critical. We have to try to master all three of those pieces."
On the support from the athletic department and the commitment to the program …
"To me, it's unbelievably exciting because in our sport, it doesn't happen very often that you get a contract of this length and I can't thank Mitch (Barnhart) and Dr. Capilouto enough again for that trust in myself and our staff to continue to do that. If it's exciting to me, I need to parlay that into our recruits, our current players, and I'm excited to take the next step and get better and never see a day that we aren't trying to improve ourselves. That the people we are trying to recruit understand that this is a long-term deal and something that we don't want to OK, we want to great. That's an everyday process, and I was players to be part of this program that accept that challenge."
On what he's learned from his successes and failures …
"I think we try and learn every day. We try and learn, 'Did we do this correctly? Are we attacking this system the right way?' I think as you get longer into the process, you learn quicker what works and what doesn't work. When you're early as a head coach, my first year in 2005, I would have probably tried things way too long and I think now we probably understand a little bit more if we try something it's not going to work, you don't want to beat a dead horse and try fix it when it may not be fixable. So understanding what will work with the current people you have has been a process and then finding the right recruits. It's not just touching 10 feet, but the kids that can touch 10 feet or close to it and can also become great volleyball players."