Perhaps at the behest of the coaching staff, who is trying to seal the deal with two top 2007 targets and any number of future prospects, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhardt on Monday told the Associated Press more about Tubby's situation, expanding on his prior assessment that the basketball program would be "evaluated" after the postseason was finished.
"[The fans] were reading way too much into that ... His winning percentage is .700-plus. Since I've been here, we've won a couple conference championships, been to two Elite Eights, we've been the number one seed twice. We've had a couple years here that have been a little un-Kentuckylike, but I don't think that's a reason to panic or put ourselves in a position where we're not making objective calls in terms of the things we need to do to be better.
"I just globally wanted people to understand, look, we're paying attention. We'll make the adjustments at the end of the year we need to make and we'll get on with it. By not saying something, everybody, I think, would have thought we didn't care or we weren't paying attention to the things that were going on in our program."
The article also notes that Barnhart, who has been fairly successful in hirings of a new baseball coach (John Cohen), women's basketball coach (Mickie DeMoss) and football coach (Rich Brooks), "understands" criticism by the masses. However, the AD was saddened by the degree to which the complaints get personal.
Yes, Mr. Barnhardt, agreed.
The timing of the statement is, in addition to recruiting issues, no doubt to tamper speculation about how the Kentucky team's performance in the NCAAs relates to Smith's job status.
The topic is a popular subject for national pundits and columnists, many of whom have created, not reported, speculation about Smith and the rationales behind the job pressure on him.
Interestingly, as I noted in the comments section below, the bracket draw for the Cats sets Smith up against two coaches many UK fans have pined for to take his job: Joy Wright (Nova) and Bill Self (Kansas). Beat them both and head to the Sweet 16, and Tubby Smith has answered his critics in the short term. Lose to either, and folks will focus on all the perceived deficiences of the current UK program.
Barnhardt's candor in regards to the fanbase is refreshing. I, too, have given the fans some grief for the way they've acted. It's one thing to express your frustrations, post your opinions and the like. But folks who called for UK to miss the tournament because "we don't deserve it" or for Kentucky to lose so that Tubby will theoretically be fired are way off base. It's a very small, but daly vocal, group. But it's there, and it's sad.
But fans are not the reason we're in the throes of AD statements and job inquiries, it's losing games. Tubby can do his best to quiet the critics with something resembling Kentucky basketball this weekend.
I, for one, am hopeful. However tempting it is, feeling anything else just leaves me wanting.