Kentucky women’s basketball coach Matthew Mitchell announced his retirement Thursday, effective immediately.
Associate coach Kyra Elzy will serve as interim head coach of the 11th-ranked Wildcats.
The 49-year-old Mitchell, 303-133 in 13 seasons at Kentucky and 333-162 overall, cited “an eventful offseason” with a head injury and subsequent surgery this summer to relieve a subdural hematoma in a release Thursday night. He said he did not feel he could give the job what it requires with the season about to start later this month.
“I have been open about the fact that the surgery and recovery process has been life-altering for me and my family,” Mitchell said in a statement. “Through that, my priorities toward my family and my faith has grown even larger than before and that has led me to make this decision.
“Although so much about today is sad because I will greatly miss the relationships and people that have constantly lifted up my family and me the last 13 years, I am resolute in my decision and comfortable with beginning the next chapter of my life.”
Mitchell is Kentucky’s winningest women’s coach, having guided the Wildcats to nine NCAA Tournament berths among 11 postseason appearances. He led the team to the Southeastern Conference regular season championship in 2012 and was named Coach of the Year by league coaches in 2018-19.
A philosophy built on tight, pressing defense and quick-tempo offense helped Kentucky remain a perennial conference contender. Jovial, outgoing and locquacious, Mitchell was a big pitchman for his program along with several local businesses.
He developed a following for showing nifty dance moves and clever celebrity impersonations during team introductions at Kentucky’s annual Big Blue Madness, the preseason public workout for both basketball programs. Mitchell’s showmanship sometimes grabbed the spotlight on a night that’s often the domain of men’s coaching counterpart John Calipari and his highly successful team.
“He has been a great ambassador for the University of Kentucky, on and off the court,” athletic director Mitch Barnhart said, “bringing an energy and style of play that made it fun for players and fans alike.
“Matthew, Jenna and their children always will be part of the Wildcat family and we wish them the very best as they enter the next stage of their lives.”
Elzy has held associate positions at Kentucky and Tennessee in a coaching career that started in 2002. She takes over a team with its highest Associated Press preseason ranking since 2014-15 (also No.11) and features preseason AP All-America selection Rhyne Howard, a junior guard.
“My immediate focus is on our players and making sure that they are dealing with this change that has happened so abruptly,” Elzy said. “As you can understand, this has been difficult for them to process. We met with the players and their families this evening and ensured them that this program will stand on the same principles moving forward.”
The school has planned a virtual news conference on Friday morning with Barnhart and Elzy.
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