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August 8, 2014

Mitch Barnhart

THE MODERATOR:  Everybody.  Thank you for coming.  I'm Susan Lax with community relations.  We appreciate you coming out today.  For today's schedule, we'll start with Mitch Barnhart, then Coach Stoops will come up, then we'll have the coordinators.
Without further ado, Mitch Barnhart.
MITCH BARNHART:  Thanks.  This is the warmup act.  I know, as always, you came to see me.  This is like the warmup of a comedy show or something, I'm not sure.  You won't get much comedy from me other than it's a new year, and we're starting again.  I wanted to just sort of recap a little bit where we've been and where we're headed.
First and foremost, I wanted to thank our fans.  It's been an interesting five, six months as we have journeyed into a couple of different areas to just try and make sure we're staying in touch with our fan base as we go through some significant changes in our program, specifically with our stadium and the way we want to conduct our business and the things that we're doing.
So a few months ago, four or five months ago, we launched the Big Blue Initiative, fan initiative, trying to give our fans an opportunity to tell us what they wanted and what they were looking for in areas of customer service, in areas of game day atmospheres and those kind of things.  The responses were unbelievable.  We had about 1,500 e‑mails, significant other places where our fans jumped in in the middle of conversations about what we've got going on on game day.  It's been really, really good.
I'm thankful that they've done that.  I think everybody sits and thinks that I'm pressing buttons selecting music on game day.  I will assure you that does not happen.  I'm not picking videos.  I'm not picking music.  But that was just a piece of it, and we got a lot of input in a lot of different areas.
I would say, when you total it up, we had about 1,700 suggestions in some way, shape, or form.  Some of those were a little repetitive in terms of same thoughts and same mindsets.  A lot of them, music selection, in‑game traditions, scores, video updates, from throughout the country, other areas, things like that.  So a lot of that.
We've made some progress.  I think we've done‑‑ we've addressed some of those things.  Some of those things won't be able to be addressed until we get into the new stadium and we get that all done.  I know Russ Pear has anxiously had the countdown on his calendar until September 5th of next year.  He's inside of 400 days, and clearly he's aware that's a part of it.
We've got to get the stadium ready for this year so we can be playable and make sure everybody has access to the places necessary for the game, obviously.  Then, obviously, we've got a lot of work to do in the off‑season as we prepare.  So it's about a year and a half, two‑year journey in this thing, in terms of the facility piece of what we're talking about.
I would ask that our fans stay involved in the process.  We absolutely want to continue to involve the fans in the process of what we're doing on game day.  And I think that you will see some things.  Just to give you an example, My Old Kentucky Home, where do you want to see it?  The input came back.  They want to see it at the beginning of the game and at the end of the game, and we'll continue to do that.  That's what the fans have asked.
I've had a lot of feedback from time to time about what that should look like.  That's what the fans want, and that's what we're going to do.  In the process of doing that, we did things like voting for a bracket tournament kind of run out, what the team runs out on the field to.  The players picked some music, and the fans voted.  I'm sure you'll all recognize the song.  So don't know about that.
But it's been good.  It's been good.  So I'm thankful that everybody has been participating in that, and looking forward to continuing to work through the BBN Initiative we put in place, BBN First Initiative.
The SEC Network, big news around that.  Obviously, everyone has been paying attention to that, who has picked it up, who has not.  The distribution on that has been outstanding through the league office.  I'm thankful for all the efforts of the league and ESPN, but I'm most thankful for the fans.  Our fans put significant pressure in the league‑‑ not just Kentucky fans, but in the league, put significant pressure on distributors and said we want this network.  It has the chance to be the most successful cable launch in the history of cable television, or launch in the history of cable television, and that's exciting for our league.  It's exciting for our programs.
It gives us an opportunity to showcase our programs across the country.  The distribution, just on the outset of everybody picked up, in that 90 million home range.  Clearly, not everyone has got it just yet or picked it up just yet.  That's what it's available to right now, and it's continuing to grow.  Real excited about getting that cranked up, and that will launch August 14th from our league.
Obviously, our basketball program will be one of the first live programming pieces on that from the Bahamas, and that will be exciting for our basketball program.  So I wanted to thank our fans for their engagement in that process, and I think it's an exciting time for the Southeastern Conference, and for the University of Kentucky to be a part of that, a really, really important piece as we go forward.  So looking forward to that.
The Commonwealth Stadium renovation, touch on that just briefly.  You hear what's going on outside.  You can see what's going on.  We've got a lot of work to do.  As I said, Russ is heavy in the middle of all that, Russ Pear, and doing a great job of trying to pull all the details together.  It's a massive project.  Great undertaking to try to do some utility work and some steel work and get it all ready to go.  Clean it up, play some games, continue construction.
At the end of this season, obviously, we'll get into it hot and heavy in terms of shelling out the rest of the stadium.  In that transition, there's a lot going on, a lot of places we can't get to, a lot of places we can't park, and there's going to be some consternation, and there's going to be some angst a little bit in some places.  Growth obviously can't happen unless there's some change in all that, and it's hard.
Sometimes that means we've got to move some folks and change some parking.  We've still got the best parking of any school in the Southeastern Conference, there's no question about that.  It may move some folks around a little bit.  It may change a few of our seating structures a little bit, but at the end of the day, we're going to have a better place to play football, a better place to represent the University of Kentucky, and I'm hoping we'll have everybody's patience and understanding.  We work our way through that, and we grow this thing the way we all want to.
With that said, up on the screens to my left and my right, you will see some pictures, some pictures of our new training center.  We're closing down schematic design of that, so we're still in draft on a lot of that.  So those are the pictures that we have that sort of give you some kind of idea what that looks like.  As you look at this, it will be on the back side of the Nutter Indoor Center over here off‑‑ as we go past, towards Alumni Drive.  Give you some kind of idea what that looks like, and we'll go there with practice fields, and the training center is about 95,000, 100,000 square feet, in that zone for football, and that will give us an opportunity to do some really, really cool, unique things, tying this whole facility and one‑stop shop, our players in an area where they can get everything they need for the University of Kentucky football in one area.
So we're excited about that.  We think we'll finish up schematic design later on this fall, and we'll be able to begin the process and get into the construction process.  So real excited about that and be able to move forward with that.
So I hope that does give people a little bit of a glimpse of what we've been trying to put together over the last few months.
I would like to refer people to the Gameday website.  Continue to go to the Gameday website, if the media could continue to plug that in terms of places our fans can go to get up to date information on a regular basis with regards to traffic patterns, parking, things within the stadium structure that could change, not on a daily basis, but on an occasional basis based on what's going on in the current construction.  I would like to encourage them to stay in touch with the Gameday website and look to that.  So pay attention to that.
The other thing I'd like to address is just to thank our coaches and our athletes for last year.  Tonight we're going to have a little get together with our staff tonight and the families tonight for all the folks that contributed to the best finish in our department's history in terms of national finish.  We finished 11th in the country, five points out of the top ten, and we're the third ranked school in the SEC in terms of national finish for a total department.
That doesn't come without a great effort from a lot of people, whether that was our coaching staff and the things that they did to bring student‑athletes to this program, the student‑athletes' efforts.  We had some teams that did some remarkable things and had a lot of fun.  18 of our 22 teams placed nationally and did a remarkable job.
And then our staff and just the things that go into getting ready to play and doing all the things that we do, whether it's the medical care, the academics, the things that are going on.  We had the best academic year we've ever had.  We had the best athletic year we've ever had.  We've got to continue to grow on that.  My message to our athletes is simply don't stop.  Don't stop.  We had a lot of fun.  It was a good run last year.  We did a lot of really good things, but don't stop.  We want to keep going.
So that's the message, but I would be remiss if I didn't publicly say, really for the first time since June 30th and the end of our year, thanks to our coaches and our athletes.  It was a lot of fun to watch, a lot of remarkable performances during.  During the month of July, we had an opportunity to celebrate A.J. Reed and the five‑time National Player of the Year.  There wasn't an award he didn't win, probably one of the more remarkable individual seasons in all of college sports.
I'm not sure it's been done very often in terms of nationally, and I think it went a little under the radar for what he did.  He had a remarkable year, and I want to congratulate A.J. on all the things he did nationally, remarkable.
I would be a little remiss or a little out of line if I started mentioning individual performances.  We had a bunch of individual athletes that did a remarkable year, but I'd like to thank them for a great year and a great finish.
That's really where I'll end my comments.  We'll take questions if you have any and conclude my warmup act for Coach Stoops.  Anybody have any questions?

Q.  [ No microphone ].
MITCH BARNHART:  I think we want to continue to make progress.  Everybody is going to look in terms of W's and L's.
That's the first place everybody goes.  That's a reasonable expectation.  We all want to win.
We want to see our program make progress.  We have a lot of young guys on the field, a lot of freshmen and sophomores on the field, a lot of redshirt kids.  I think you'll see growth out of them.
I think that's‑‑ we've always said it before, you'll know progress when you see it.  You'll see us making less mistakes in certain areas, less penalties, less turnovers, getting more turnovers, creating a different environment for our team, moving the ball late game, making adjustments and doing things needed to win some games.  So hopefully we'll do that.
Everyone wants to see it show up in W's and L's, and we would too.  The goal is to get to postseason play and to do that.  That's always the goal in whatever we do.  But I think we'll all recognize progress when we see it.  I would anticipate that.
I think we've got a good group of young, talented guys and a bunch of guys fighting for positions all across the board.  This is as much competition for a position as I've seen since I've probably been at Kentucky.  There's depth in a lot of areas in terms of people.  Now, who will come out of that to take the jobs is yet to be seen.

Q.  With the vote yesterday by the NCAA about more autonomy for the conference.  There's some talk now about maybe the power conferences only sticking to teams in those conferences and not going beyond that.  Are you in favor of that?
MITCH BARNHART:  I don't see that happening.  I really don't.  I don't think that will happen.
I think we've got to, for the strength of the game of football, we'll have to schedule other folks.  I think that's important.
But a lot of people are pointing to, quote, unquote, the RPI, the strength of schedule stuff for the playoff system.  Our strength of schedule is plenty good in the SEC.  We're fine.  And everybody is playing at least one other big five conference team.
So we've got nine on our schedule.  Alabama is always going to have nine, maybe ten.  Florida is always going to have nine, maybe ten.  So we're going to be fine.  And I think it's important for the growth of the game of football that you continue to play other people and we don't get so tight on 65, 70 teams, whatever.  I think that's important not to do that.
Now, that's my opinion.  Whether that resonates across‑‑ I don't know.  I think it's important for the game of football not to do that.

Q.  How about FCS?  Are they continuing to play?
MITCH BARNHART:  I think you've got to.  I think you have to.  To play one FCS team a year is probably fair.  I think it's fair to them.  It helps them sustain their program.  They need it for financial viability to be able to maintain their programs.
We need it too, to be honest with you.  We can't afford to‑‑ from just‑‑ sometimes from an injury perspective and a cost perspective, there's lots of piece that's come into play when you play an FCS team, and it's important that you weigh all that in there.  I think it's important that you continue to play them.

Q.  Commissioner Slive said at the present time he wants the teams to have [no microphone].  The caveat to that was he wants every team to play ten games in the SEC.  Do you think they'll make that happen?
MITCH BARNHART:  The ADs and the coaches have been pretty strong at being at eight in the league.  We've all agreed we're going to play at least one FBS, whatever you call it, big five kind of a game.
Yeah, I understand what he wants.  Let me repeat.  I'm good at eight and one.  So that will be a discussion.  I'm sure that will get to be a discussion in the room.  I think each program has to weigh in where it needs to be.
For us to sit here and say we're at eight and playing two others, I'm not sure that's very smart for us right now.  The reality of it is can you get to the Final Four of the playoff system playing eight and one out of our league?  Does the strength of schedule?  It will all come down to those kinds of pieces in the computer and stuff.  Does that get you to the Final Four?
People have to make their own decision.  I don't think that needs to be at the conference level and the national level.  I think it needs to be at an institutional level.  We need to make the decisions as to where we fit in.  If we misgauge where we fit in and all of a sudden we have a remarkable season and our strength of schedule isn't quite where it needed to be and we miss out, that's on us.  That's our fault.
I don't think that becomes a decision‑‑ the growth and the health of our program needs to be based upon where we see it and where we think it needs to go.  As a league, we don't want to damage the league because of our schedule, but I think, as long as we're playing eight and playing one, I think that's strong.  We've already talked about we work very closely with the league on our basketball schedules.  We've got our league basketball schedule, and they take a look at our nonconference basketball schedules to make sure we're all within the framework of not just scheduling everybody in the bottom third of the RPI so we don't damage the rest of the league.
We'll get to that spot.  I'm fine with that, but I think at some point in time, it's an institutional decision as to where you want to live, or where you feel like you can live.

Q.  Is there anything firm in terms of the Ring of Honor for the newspaper?  I had a call about that.
MITCH BARNHART:  We're going to work our way through‑‑ we've got a whole package in terms of graphics and what we're doing with traditions and those kinds of things.  That is a piece of the construction package.
As we get through a lot of these bid packages and make sure where we are financially, we'll work our way through making sure those traditions‑‑ we've got a group we've worked with that have come in with designs and different ways of honoring traditions and signs, this is the way we get to our seats‑‑ all of those pieces are included in one package.  So certainly that's a piece.
The other thing I want to find a way to do is our total University of Kentucky Hall of Fame.  We're going to announce that new class here very shortly.  I want to make sure we find a way to honor that group as well.
We talk about our Ring of Honor, and that's the football specific folks and the folks that hang on the banners of Rupp Arena, but we've got other athletes that have contributed to this deal.  I want to make sure we find some way to honor University of Kentucky Hall of Famers.  We've got really phenomenal folks, and they need to find a spot where they're honored as well.  I'm not sure how we get all that done, but we're going to figure that out. 
Thanks for being here.  Look forward to seeing you.  We'll see you in the stadium this fall.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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