December 14, 2020
Kyra Elzy, Mitch Barnhart talk about Elzy’s permanent gig
Kentucky coach's interim title replaced after six games
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That’s all it took for the Kentucky women’s basketball program to decide it had the right head coach for the present — and future.
The interim head coach tag was removed from Kyra Elzy’s name on Monday, making her the head coach of the ninth-ranked, 6-0 Wildcats.
“Kyra has earned and deserves the opportunity to lead this program into the future,” said Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart in a Zoom press conference with reporters Monday.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to be the new head coach at the University of Kentucky. It still has not sunk in, but I will get there,” Elzy said. “This is a big responsibility. I am ready for the moment. Big Blue Nation, I’ve said it before, I will give you my all, along with this staff.”
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. She was named interim coach on Nov. 12 after Matthew Mitchell — the winningest head coach in Kentucky women’s basketball history with over 300 wins — announced he was stepping down immediately.
Elzy acknowledged and thanked Mitchell on Monday.
“Thank you to Coach Mitchell for empowering me and for giving me the confidence and wings to soar. We hope to make you proud. This year is for you, Coach,” she said. “We will put a team on the floor that you are proud of.”
She becomes the seventh Black woman head basketball coach in the SEC, joining the sisterhood of South Carolina’s Dawn Staley, LSU’s Nikki Fargas, Mississippi State’s Nikki McCray-Penson, Ole Miss’ Yolett McPhee-McCuin, Georgia’s Joni Taylor and Auburn’s Terri Williams-Fluornoy.
“I am honored to join the other sisters in this business,” Elzy said. “There are a lot of people that laid the foundation that opened the doors for me to have this opportunity. I go back to Coach (Vivian) Stringer, Coach Dawn Staley and Carolyn Peck and others, so there are a lot of people (who went) before me.
“As my college coach would say, you always pay your blessings forward, so I hoped this door opened, and now that it has, that I use this opportunity to impact other people and that they can see hope.”
The mentality of the staff and team has not changed since she was named interim head coach, Elzy said.
“I knew we had a responsibility to make sure we were guiding and leading the players,” she said. “We were going to put our head down and grind and give them the best of us so we could have some success this season and the mentality hasn’t changed.
“We have a job to do,” she continued. “We’re going to lead, guide, prepare for basketball games and make sure that our players are taking care of their academic achievement on and off the court. So the mentality has not changed.”
Barnhart said he did not opt for a national search because he was “comfortable” with what he saw in Elzy.
“When you’ve got one of the best right at home, why would you leave home? I felt very comfortable with what we had at home,” he said. “When we sat down she had an incredibly well-thought out plan of things she wanted to do to continue to move our program forward and I think as any administration would want to know, what’s the plan?
“When she unveiled that, it became very clear to me that she had though this through at a very high level and it was that kind of high-level thinking that I knew would be necessary to get us to a spot — Final Fours, national championships, those kind of things — that our kids dream of and that she was dreaming of.
“I’ve watched her for years and to have an opportunity to watch her on sideline as Matthew’s assistant and see her work ethic — it wasn’t a hard step.”
Elzy has already navigated some difficult terrain, suspending her star, Rhyne Howard, for two games at the beginning of this season. Now, she’ll have the authority of a long-term contract, and permanent tag, as she continues to build the Kentucky program.
Not that she’ll be doing it alone. She cited the work she and her staff will take on, collectively, every single day.
“It’s the people that make Kentucky special, and our job as a staff is to make sure that our players have the best college experience possible,” she said. “Our motto: We will inspire, impact and influence to make sure our players are ready for life after Kentucky.”