November 13, 2020 

Kentucky WBB head coach Matthew Mitchell announces retirement

Mitchell coached 13 seasons at Kentucky and is the winningest head coach in program history

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In a surprise announcement, Matthew Mitchell announced Thursday evening that he is retiring as head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats women’s basketball program.

Mitchell, the winningest head coach in Kentucky women’s basketball history with over 300 wins, is stepping down immediately. UK director of athletics Mitch Barnhart has named associate head coach Kyra Elzy as interim head coach, effective immediately.

This summer Mitchell, 49, had brain surgery to remove a subdural hematoma, discovered after a visit to the hospital for persistent headaches.

Mitchell’s statement on his retirement:

“After much conversation with my family and Mr. Barnhart, I have decided to retire from coaching and effectively have resigned as head coach at Kentucky. This was a difficult decision and I know the timing is not ideal, but I do not feel I can give the job what it requires at this time.

As has been much publicized, I have had an eventful offseason with my injury and subsequent surgery. I have been open about the fact that the surgery and recovery process has been life-altering for me and my family.

Through that, my priorities towards my family and my faith has grown even larger than before and that has led me to make this decision. Although so much about today is sad because I will greatly miss the relationships and people that have constantly lifted up my family and me the last 13 years, I am resolute in my decision and comfortable with beginning the next chapter of my life.

To the current players, thank you for all the support and love you have shown me, not only this year but in years past. Each one of you has truly left a lasting impact on me and I will cherish our time together.

To my former players, assistant coaches, and support staff – each one of you has made me a better person and I will always extend a listening ear and encouraging word whenever you need it. I would be remiss if I also did not thank Mr. Barnhart, Lee T. Todd, and Eli Capilouto for their commitment and support to women’s basketball at Kentucky and giving me a chance many years ago to be a part of this great university.

To Big Blue Nation, 13 years ago you welcomed me and my family with open arms, and Jenna and I are forever grateful. Kentucky is our home and this university and community are beautifully unique and special and we are so blessed to have this place in our lives. Finally, I want to thank Kyra Elzy, Niya Butts, Amber Smith, Amy Tilley, and everyone in our current support staff for all of their hard work this offseason and preseason as the program navigated uncharted waters.

I believe with every ounce of my heart that the greatest place for a young woman to go to college and become a better person ready to face what society has in store is at the University of Kentucky. I am steadfast in that belief because I know the people in this program spend every second of every day focused on how to make other’s lives better.

Kyra has done an amazing job leading the program these past few months. She is one of the best coaches in college basketball and has displayed that throughout her career as a top-notch tactician, elite recruiter, and most of all, she is of the highest character. I have the utmost confidence in her to lead Kentucky women’s basketball into future success.”  

Mitchell retires with a career record of 333-162, including a 303-133 mark at Kentucky. This is the first head coaching position for Elzy, who has served as an NCAA assistant coach since 2002, including associate head coach titles at Kentucky and Tennessee.

Despite losing five seniors, the University of Kentucky Wildcats enter the 2020-21 season ranked No. 11 in Lindy’s Sports preseason top 25 listing, thanks in large part to standout junior guard Rhyne Howard.

Howard — the 2020 SEC Player of the Year — was named to the publication’s preseason First Team All-America honors.

In addition to Howard, the Wildcats will return their top two and five of their top seven scorers from last season while also bringing back its top two rebounders. The Wildcats will also add 2019 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Dre’una Edwards, and a talented group of newcomers to the roster this season.

When the season was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wildcats had compiled a 22-8 record securing its 20th 20-win season in program history and its 10th under head coach Matthew Mitchell. At the end of the season, they were ranked No. 16 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 18 in the USA Today/Coaches Top 25. They were ranked inside the top 20 of both rankings all season long, peaking at No. 11 in both polls in mid-January.

Barnhart and Elzy will hold a news conference Friday at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Barnhart’s statement on Mitchell and Elzy:

“As our all-time winningest coach, Matthew Mitchell led us through so many of the great moments in the history of Kentucky basketball, with more than 300 wins, an SEC championship, and numerous NCAA Tournament appearances. He has been a great ambassador for the University of Kentucky, on and off the court, bringing an energy and style of play that made it fun for players and fans alike. In addition, Matthew and Jenna have woven themselves into the fabric of the community with a tremendous generosity of time, treasure, and spirit. Matthew, Jenna, and their children always will be part of the Wildcat family and we wish them the very best as they enter the next stage of their lives.” 

“Kyra has been alongside Matthew for much of the success we’ve had and she is a proven teacher, leader, and recruiter. We look forward to spending more time with her as she further develops her style and philosophy while leading us into the next chapter of Kentucky basketball.”

Statement from Interim Head Coach Elzy:

“Coach Mitchell means so much to me and I owe him an enormous amount of gratitude for his guidance throughout my coaching career. This is not an easy day for any of us as we come to grips with his decision to retire. My immediate focus is on our players and making sure that they are dealing with this change that has happened so abruptly. As you can understand, this has been difficult for them to process. We met with the players and their families this evening and ensured them that this program will stand on the same principles moving forward. I want to thank Mr. Barnhart, President Capilouto, and our administration for trusting me as the interim head coach. Coach Mitchell has set this program on a path for distinguished success, and as interim head coach, I promise that our staff will work tirelessly to make sure the program continues to build upon the success that Coach Mitchell has had at Kentucky.”

Written by Dorothy J. Gentry

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