Parsing Mitch Barnhart

Today, Larry Vaught has this column in the Danville Advocate-Messenger, ostensibly a puff-piece about Billy Gillispie which includes a bunch of quotes from Mitch Barnhart, and a few of them were ... interesting.  I'll start with this one, about the status of Billy Gillispie's contract:

"We have the memorandum of understanding and it is not a real big deal to us," said Barnhart, who was here to watch UK play in the NCAA Tournament. "He (Gillispie) is OK with where we are. If he wants to revisit it, that's fine. We are very comfortable in the relationship."
Now, I understand the politics of being an athletic director, and Barhart is a skilled politician when it comes to using a lot of words to say essentially nothing.  But this is somewhat surprising to me.  Nobody with any understanding of big-money contracts can actually believe that Barnhart means this.  Contracts are there for a very good reason, both for the interests of the university and the coach.  If something should go wrong in an area which is not addressed by the MOU, it could be very bad for both parties.

Some would say that is a worry for the lawyers on both sides and not the principles, but in reality, it is a problem that will only escalate with time.  The, "Ah, don't worry, be happy" talk will placate the media and the administration people who really do care about this for a while, but not forever.  And sooner or later, it will have a negative impact on Gillispie's ability to recruit as other coaches learn how to use this fact to create uncertainty combined with the inevitable media questions that will arise in the off season.  Gillispie does not want recruit's parents to be asking, "Exactly why is it you don't have contract after 18 months, Coach?" for much longer.

So let me help everyone out and translate Barnhart's quote for the benefit of those unfamiliar with politico-administrative speak:
"Yeah, it's a problem.  It's something we really do need to get done before it becomes the elephant in the room.  I think we're fine now, but the University of Kentucky does not and cannot operate this way.  Informality is fine early in a relationship, but this is a little bit like living in sin -- both sides need to come together and get this finalized for the good of all involved."
Then, there is this, when asked if he thought this would be a "peaceful off-season" vis-a-vis the possibility of yet another coaching change:

"I hope so. I don't think there is any reason for him to want to go anywhere but Kentucky," Barnhart said. "I think he is in love with what he is doing and we love how hard he works at it. The intensity and passion he brings to the program are what our fans want.

"I don't sense there is any need to be worried about any of that. It is a special place for a special coach and a special opportunity to do some neat things here for Billy and I think he knows that."

Heh.  Well, I don't know about you, but that didn't exactly seem like a confident statement to me.  "Weasel words" like, "I hope so" and, "I don't sense ..." are not exactly categorical statements of certainty.  I am puzzled as to why Barnhart leaves so much wiggle room in these statements.  Of course, it could be that he is just a very careful man, but I would feel much more comfortable with something a bit less ambiguous and a bit more definitive.

Given what we have seen this year, I don't see Gillispie pulling up stakes and setting sail, and I don't see UK giving him the heave-ho.  He did a good job in a difficult situation and won a co-COY in the SEC.  But this contract issue and the careful wording of Barnhart do make me a bit less sanguine than I like to be. 

How do I translate this one?  I admit, I can't.  I don't know what he is trying to tell us here, other than, "It will all be OK -- maybe."  Well, I can live with that, I suppose, but it doesn't exactly give me that warm, fuzzy feeling I was hoping for.

Perhaps the departure of Smith really caught Barnhart by surprise and he is just unwilling to be made a fool of in the media.  I don't really know and I'm not really concerned -- yet.  But this has raised my antennae, and I will be carefully watching Barnhart in the off-season.  On thing I do know -- this contract issue needs to be a focus in the off season, because getting that put to bed would make everyone more comfortable.
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