Nearly half a year later, Matthew Mitchell’s resignation still doesn’t seem real.
The all-time winningest head coach for Kentucky Women’s Basketball, there are plenty of folks–myself included–who don’t know the program without Mitchell leading the charge. 13 seasons, a 281-125 (.692) record, nine NCAA Tournament appearances that included three trips to the Elite Eight, two SEC Coach of the Year honors, a multitude of future professionals hoopers, and, of course, endless dance moves at Big Blue Madness, is one hell of a resume. Mitchell made Kentucky Women’s Basketball a force to be reckoned with for over a decade.
Which is why his resignation on Nov. 13 was such a hard pill to swallow. Now 50 years old, Mitchell was in the prime of his coaching career and was about to embark on a season with arguably the most talented roster he ever had during his time in Lexington. But then COVID-19 hit, and brain surgery last summer due to a fall during a hiking trip had him pondering what type of life he wanted to live going forward. Most assumed that his surprise retirement just 13 days before the start of the 2020-21 season was a result of those health concerns–which is only partly true.
In a wonderfully written article by Mark Story of the Herald-Leader, Mitchell breaks down, for the first time in public, the true reason he decided to leave coaching: his family.
— Herald-Leader Sports (@KentuckySports) May 2, 2021
It wasn’t a simple decision by any means, but one that he felt was necessary. Mitchell told the Herald-Leader that his resignation wasn’t due to health concerns: “I am physically fine. I was physically cleared to go back to work,” Mitchell said. “I could have coached the team this year. Physically and mentally, I could have done it.”
But after his incident last March that put him under the knife, Mitchell’s priorities began to shift. He has a wife, Jenna, and two young daughters, Saylor (9) and Presley (7), to take care of and love and watch over in Lexington, along with his adult daughter, Lacy, and two parents who are all down in his home state of Mississippi.
Mitchell tried to reinvigorate his desire to coach after current head coach Kyra Elzy–who was Mitchell’s associate head coach during the preseason before being promoted–and the rest of the staff initially pushed back on his request to leave the program. But his heart wasn’t fully in it. Mitchell informed Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart of his decision to resign and Elzy was quickly made the interim head coach.
While Mitchell told Story that he won’t entirely rule out a possible return to coaching down the road, that isn’t the plan right now. There is a self-published book on the way plus the hopeful launch of a consulting firm with his oldest daughter. Mitchell said that he’ll now be able to watch his youngest daughter’s soccer games on Saturday mornings instead of spending it with recruits who might never step foot on the Kentucky campus.
It was a difficult decision for Mitchell, but one that he feels comfortable with several months later. If you have a subscription, I would highly suggest reading Story’s entire post in the Herald-Leader. Not many people as special as Matthew Mitchell come along all that often, and Kentucky had him for 13 successful and exciting years.