Kentucky’s Barnhart ‘Finalist’ For Kansas AD Job

Two SEC school administration sources have told me in the past 48 hours that University of Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart will interview for the Kansas University Athletic Director position in early December.

Mitch Barnhart Kentucky Athletic Director To Interview With Kansas

(Landing KU gig would likely mean bump in pay for UK’s Barnhart)

Joining Barnhart as a finalist for the position is current Tulsa Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham. Cunningham will also interview with Kansas for the job next month, which was recently vacated by the retirement of Lew Perkins.

I’ve been told Barnhart and Cunningham are two of three finalists targeted by the six-member Kansas AD search panel, which is chaired by the managing partner of Pegasus Capital Management, Ray Evans.

As it pertains to Barnhart, I’ve been told there are three main factors fueling the interest of Kansas officials in the current UK AD.

1) Barnhart’s experience presiding over a traditional, powerhouse basketball program.

2) Barnhart’s reputation for integrity - in the wake of the Kansas ticket scandal and other impropriety that plagued the late stages of the Perkins’ regime.

3) Barnhart’s stellar reputation as one of the top fundraisers in the college athletics.

I’ve been told that Kansas is focusing particularly on the state of its football program with prospective athletic director candidates. Before the ugly departure of Mark Mangino, there were grand plans for a football facility upgrade.

Kansas has made clear to candidates that it wants to revive those plans and that firing current coach Turner Gill, in the near term, is not an option.

Sources tell me that Barnhart’s motivation in pursuing the job is also three-fold.

1) The Kansas AD gig is a great job and he’s originally from the state. He was born in Kansas City and graduated from Ottawa (KS) University.

2) Landing the Kansas job would almost certainly involve a raise from Barnhart’s current base salary, which was $475,000 according to the Kentucky state employee database for 2010. Barnhart has earned considerable money in bonuses over the years, including $30,000 if the Wildcats made a bowl game.

Lew Perkins reportedly made an astounding $4.4 million his final full year on the job as KU AD - but much of that money was via bonuses derived from private funds. Perkins base salary was reportedly $800,000 at the time of his ouster.

3) Barnhart’s concerned, for obvious reasons, that the recruiting methods of John Calipari may soon begin to reflect poorly on the school and his own reputation.

On the latter point, by no means am I implying that Barnhart is attempting to escape UK before the school’s basketball program encounters NCAA sanctions. That’s not the case.

This is more a function of Barnhart tiring of the constant sparring with the NCAA and negative media coverage that inevitably follows John Calipari wherever he goes. (Ironic though as it was Barnhart who hired Calipari.)

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t note that the man who hired Barnhart at Kentucky, UK President Lee T. Todd, Jr., is stepping down from that post in June. As a staunch supporter of Barnhart,  perhaps Todd exiting could be a factor in the current UK AD considering his own departure from Lexington. Though that was not confirmed to me by sources.

Barnhart would be a tremendous fit for Kansas, and they’d be extremely lucky to get him.

In comparison, Cunningham is a darkhorse candidate but his track record at Tulsa is impressive as is his extensive background working in the Notre Dame athletic department.

Lew Perkins did a lot of good things at Kansas, but so much of the good will - and fervor for fundraising - was lost in the regrettable circumstances of what many regard as his forced departure. Landing Barnhart would be a major coup in reviving the reputation of an athletic department in sore need of a public relations makeover.

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