Mitch Barnhart, who is in his 14th year as University of Kentucky athletics director, is being recognized as one of the best in the nation in his profession.
Barnhart was named NCAA Division I Athletics Director of the Year, one of four Division I ADs selected for the honor, in June at the annual convention of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
A month earlier, Barnhart was one of four finalists for the Athletics Director of the Year as chosen by the SportsBusiness Journal. And, in February, Barnhart received the Sports Business Award from the Bluegrass Sports Commission
It is no coincidence that Barnhart’s multiple accolades came in the same year as the completion of his 15 by 15 by 15 Plan, an ambitious blueprint set in 2008 in which Kentucky would rank in the nation’s top 15 athletic programs and win 15 conference or national championships by 2015. At the same time, Barnhart set a goal of a 3.0 composite grade-point average for UK student-athletes and an even greater commitment to community service by Wildcat athletes and staff. All of the goals presented bold, unprecedented challenges for UK Athletics.
Barnhart’s legacy at UK includes helping develop administrators who have gone on to become athletics directors at nationally prominent universities, including Greg Byrne of Arizona, Mark Coyle at Syracuse, Rob Mullens at Oregon and Scott Stricklin at Mississippi State.
Barnhart arrived at UK from Oregon State, where he served four successful years (1998-2002) as athletics director. Before OSU, he worked in athletics administration posts at Tennessee (1986-98), Southern Methodist University (1983-86), Oregon (1983) and San Diego State (1982-83).
Barnhart is a native of Kansas City, Kan. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Ottawa University (Kansas) in 1981 and a master’s in sports administration from Ohio University.
In addition to the extraordinary achievements of his work world, reaching new heights is also a theme of his personal life. An avid mountain climber, Barnhart has scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, along with two of the most challenging peaks in the United States, Mount Rainier in Washington and the Grand Teton in Wyoming. Active in community service, Barnhart is on the national advisory board of K-Love Radio.
Barnhart’s family includes his wife, Connie; three children, Blaire, Scott, and Kirby Willoughby; Kirby’s husband, McKenzie, and a grandson, Cooper.