Statement by Lee Todd: As we close out 2002, quite a tumultuous year in University of Kentucky athletics, we should be celebrating the hiring of our new football coach, but we find ourselves explaining the hiring process itself. I felt it was necessary to try and clarify these issues.
First of all I want it to be very clear, Rich Brooks is an outstanding football coach, a man of integrity, respected throughout the industry by his peers, and I believe he is the right coach to lead UK football forward.
The first issue I would like to clarify is the question about what UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart did or did not communicate to me about Coach Brooks’ involvement with a NCAA investigation that was conducted 23 years ago.
During the hiring process, a number of reference checks were obtained on Coach Brooks. Without exception, every recommendation received was outstanding. However, it has become obvious that a more thorough check was needed and should have been conducted.
I am disappointed that we didn’t know in advance about the NCAA violations involving the University of Oregon. However, having that knowledge now, and the fact that Rich Brooks has had an excellent record for the last 20 plus years, I am confident we made the right choice.
Mitch Barnhart kept me informed throughout the entire football coach search process, but it is clear now that he did not provide me sufficient information about the probation at the University of Oregon that occurred more than 20 years ago. I am convinced that Mitch did not know all of the details regarding the violations by the Oregon football program. He was aware that several Pac-10 schools, including Oregon, had been placed on probation for academic violations, but did not recall that there were any violations attributed to the head coach. Based on that recollection, Mitch did not think it necessary to present that information to me. Obviously, he should have done so.
I met with Mitch today at length, and as a result, I assure you Mitch now fully understands that I want to know any detail that affects the credibility and integrity of the university’s athletic program. As I have stated many times, I have very high expectations about how UK’s athletic department conducts its business, and I will continue to insist on those high standards. I have made it clear to Mitch that in this situation he did not meet those standards. However, I believe that Mitch is committed to and is capable of achieving those standards. That is why I stand firmly in support of Mitch Barnhart as UK’s athletics director.
I am confident that Mitch Barnhart can continue to develop a competitive and compliant athletics program for the University of Kentucky. I have been pleased with the progress and direction that Mitch has taken the department in his first five months. I hope Mitch Barnhart is the UK Athletics Director for many years to come, and I intend to finalize his contract in the very near future to solidify that.
The second issue is whether the situation at Oregon would have made any difference in our hiring of Rich Brooks. The answer is no. Coach Brooks said at the time 23 years ago and continues to state that he accepted responsibility for the violations of his staff early in his career. He states that event taught him to be even more diligent in his compliance oversight. By all account he has run solid, compliant programs at the college and professional level. He served on the American Football Coaches Association’s ethics committee that dealt with infractions. I believe the AFCA would not have awarded that committee assignment if they hadn’t had confidence in Rich Brooks. I also believe Rich Brooks is a man of integrity and I am confident that he will take the UK football program to the level we all want to achieve. I hope the fans will rally behind this coach and support him in his efforts to do that.
Mitch Barnhart and Rich Brooks are extremely committed to building a successful UK football program. I believe it is in the best interest of everyone involved to focus on moving forward and work together to build our program.
Statement by Mitch Barnhart: Today, I was hoping to be making plans with our new football coach. Instead, I find myself having to apologize to my school president, Dr. Lee Todd, our UK Board of Trustees, our Athletics Board, our student athletes, and our fans.
Concerning the hiring process, I obtained reference checks on Coach Brooks, receiving glowing recommendations from all parties. However, I obviously did not do as thorough a check as I should have. In my first job, I worked as a regional fund raiser at Oregon for 11 months beginning in the fall of 1983. I was aware that Oregon was one of several Pac-10 schools placed on NCAA probation for academic violations. My recollection of that problem was that Coach Brooks was not a primary focus of those academic violations, and I was not aware of any travel-related violations involving the head coach until yesterday. Therefore, I did not believe that the information was pertinent to the UK search. I now realize that I was wrong. I should have shared all the information I had with Dr. Todd, and I should have conducted a more thorough review of the Oregon probation. The additional information that surfaced yesterday from 23 years ago indicated a violation in 1979, but this would not have affected our hiring decision. Coach Brooks’ compliance record since then has been exemplary.
I am sorry for the embarrassment I have caused Dr. Todd, Coach Brooks, the university, and its many friends and fans. I understand Dr. Todd’s commitment to making sure the university’s athletic program meets the highest of standards, and I pledge myself to upholding them.
Statement by Steve Reed: I have discussed the issues surrounding the hiring of Rich Brooks as UK’s football coach with President Todd and understand the situation. The President and Mitch Barnhart have my full support and confidence. I believe we have made an outstanding hire in Coach Brooks, and I look forward to him building the program. I have also discussed this issue with many of the UK Trustees and they have likewise extended their support.