Missing Rick Pitino

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – What a difference a year makes. This time last year, immediately after Louisville upended Kentucky 73-70 in their annual Armageddon basketball showdown, Rick Pitino was toasting himself in his palatial YUM Center media room, basking in a rare conquest over his arch nemesis, John Calipari. Pitino was nearly giddy with ecstasy, admitting to reporters how great this win felt after being dominated so long by the blue-clad mongrel hordes from seventy miles up the Interstate. Although it took Quentin Snider’s game-of-his-life to pull the Cardinals through, this was supposedly a season defining victory that would propel the Cards on to another championship banner, and Pitino to sainthood status within the River City.

Almost exactly one year later, as the Wildcats and Cardinals prepare for another hard-fought Battle of the Bluegrass, times have definitely changed. Pitino now finds himself engaged in an ugly lawsuit with his former employer, having been abruptly fired from his dream job for conduct unbecoming of a leader of young men. Marital infidelity, strippers in Minardi Hall, and bribes to shoe companies have banished traitor Rick hundreds of miles away from the state upon which he so pompously preyed. Meanwhile, Coach Cal prepares to light up another victory cigar, once again rekindling the domination of his Wildcats over their petulant little brother.

I’ll be completely honest, though, I already miss Rick Pitino. I miss his demonic scowl, the spittle flying from his lips, and his deathly pale countenance as he prances along the Rupp Arena sidelines. I miss him and his custom Armani suits, the brazenly red tie, and his perfectly dyed hair yelling animatedly at his minions while condescendingly berating the men in striped shirts. After another devastating loss, there’s something gratifying about watching his obligatory post-game handshake with Calipari—envy, resentment, and bitterness oozing out from every one of his jealous pores. In fact, I miss all the vitriol, venom, and vindictiveness suddenly absent from one of the best rivalries in college basketball. Because without Rick as the villain, you simply can’t hate Louisville anymore.

You can’t hate interim U of L head coach David Padgett either. At this point in the season, he might as well be Scott Padgett. I’m sure he’s a decent coach, but he’s no crypt keeper. He hasn’t snobbishly mocked Kentucky fans while flipping off an entire BBN on his way out of Rupp. He hasn’t showered his team with outlandish hyperbole while simultaneously dissing the city of Lexington, its working-class citizens, and its entire restaurant scene. He hasn’t come close to mimicking his predecessor by sweating through a gaudy white suit or squeezing into a skin-tight shirt and making a bon-a-fide mockery of himself. Bravo Pitino he’s not.

Let’s all face it–a victory over the Cardinals just won’t be the same without Rick. It won’t be as satisfying because it just won’t be as personal. In past years, when the Wildcats won, it was more or less a vindicating coronation—a validation that good still can triumph over evil. This year, a win will still be nice, it just won’t be totally fulfilling. It’ll be more like an appetizer in preparation for your football cousin’s main course later in the day down in Nashville.

After the disappointing performance in their loss to UCLA though, a Kentucky victory over Louisville suddenly takes on added significance. Coach Cal warned everyone in his post-game presser that, if his team plays like they did against the Bruins, the Wildcats could possibly lose their next four or five in a row. If that does indeed happen, then we’re talking about a marginal team destined for the NCAA bubble. Now’s the time to right the ship, build up some confidence, and go on a nice little mid-year run. It all begins this Friday at Rupp with a big victory over the Louisville Cardinals. It’s just a dad-gum shame that Rick Pitino won’t be there to experience the pain.

John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang

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The World According to Mitch

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) — Mitch Barnhart remains a man of mystery. When he took on the athletics director position at the University of Kentucky back in 2002, few thought he would stay the course. With no previous ties to the Bluegrass State and previous stints at Tennessee and Oregon State already on his impressive resume, I thought UK would be just a short stepping stone on his way to future AD stardom. I pictured Mitch to be a glad handing, back slapping, baby kissing politician enamored with his position of power—kind of like his namesake in the United States Senate. Instead, he’s been just the opposite—humble, disarming, and a bit on the shy side. A couple of years earlier, I spent a few weeks with Mitch in Bible Study Fellowship. After one semester, I determined it was a bit too structured for my liking and subsequently dropped out. Mitch has faithfully persevered. That should tell you something about his character (and mine too).

Recently, I caught up with Mitch at one of his rare appearances chatting directly with media. Despite his low-key mannerisms and soft-spoken speaking style, his time in front of the microphones still always provides for some pretty good theater. This proved to be especially true this year as Kentucky managed a 10th place finish—its highest ever– in the 2017 Director’s Cup standings. (The Director’s Cup measures competitive success for all Division-I schools.) Kentucky finished second to only Florida in the SEC with 21 of 22 of UK’s varsity sports adding points to the tally.

Other athletic programs argue that the ultimate measure of success is determined solely by the number of victories on the playing field. This “win at all costs” mentality results frequently in hiring coaches with questionable morals and obvious character flaws (You know who I’m talking about). By contrast, Mitch has worked hard to instill in his athletic programs a culture of servant leadership personified by all his coaching hires. Some of you remember Mitch himself personally drying off seats after a UK Baseball rain delay. That image captures the essence of what Mitch Barnhart represents to many of the students, faculty, alumni, and fans of the University of Kentucky.

When I asked him if he’s surprised at how much has been made of that now iconic moment, Mitch predictably heaped all the praise on his subordinates. “That’s indicative of our department,” he said. “I love our people. There were a lot of people out there (drying off seats) that night. I love the heart of our Kentucky staff. It’s who our people are, and we’ve tried to be intentional about hiring those kinds of people. I think we’re very fortunate. I’m just one of them. I don’t look at myself any differently than anybody else. I’m glad that we could help. I think that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to show up and help out.”

For the newly appointed chair of SEC Athletics Directors, it’s obvious that it’s NOT just about wins on the field that matter. He’s genuinely dialed in to the guiding principles of character, integrity, education, stewardship, and competitiveness that have become part of his creed. That’s why his hires are always high character servant leaders. That’s why a Nick Mingione ends up coaching baseball and a Rachel Lawson ends up coaching softball at the University of Kentucky. Granted, the Billy Gillispie and Joker Phillips boo-boos were not his finest hour. But Mitch recovered nicely with his subsequent hires. Plus, everyone deserves a couple of mulligans in the course of a long and distinguished career. Be assured that as long as Mitch is around, BBN won’t ever have to worry about being disgraced both on the field or in the classroom. I’d be shocked if a sordid stripper scandal or a bogus African Studies curriculum festered under his watch.

Despite his successes, not everyone’s a Mitch Barnhart fan. For the life of me, I can’t quite figure out why a segment of BBN still feels compelled to cast aspersions his way. Maybe it’s because Mitch frequently appears awkward and aloof in public. Maybe it’s because hard core basketball and football purists think he places too much emphasis on the so called “minor” sports. Maybe his long-term critics still harbor residual bitterness as they stumble upon their stash of “Ditch Mitch and Rich” bumper stickers. Perhaps everyone feels he caters a bit too much to the deep pocketed donors while ignoring the needs of the average fan. Or perhaps disgruntled fans are just plain frustrated because they feel that UK football isn’t really any better than it was when Mitch first came on board.

I know it’s difficult to compare eras–but practically speaking–Mitch Barnhart has done more as athletics director than any of his predecessors at the University of Kentucky. In addition to the Director’s Cup achievement, he’s raised enough cash to build new stadiums and pay his coaches handsomely (some would say exorbitantly)—while simultaneously caring enough about each one of his student athletes to recognize all of them by name. Academically, UK athletes have tied or broken the school record for graduation rate every year since the NCAA began charting that statistic in 2005. UK Athletics has also been scandal free during that period. In this day and age, that speaks volumes about Mitch in his role as AD. Love him or hate him–in my opinion—he’s the most accomplished director of athletics in my fifty years following UK Sports. Help me out here please. In this world according to Mitch, tell me why he’s not getting more love.

John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang/

Sign of the Apocalypse

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – What in the world is going on with attendance at Rupp Arena? Cast your eyes up to the rafters and you’ll see rows and rows of blatantly empty bleachers. Downstairs in the lower levels, pockets of premium seats also appear visibly vacant. When the hallowed student eRUPPtion Zone looks embarrassingly anemic night after night, you know the basketball world has tilted off its axis. Bringing in stand-ins because students don’t show, or throwing in the Louisville game as part of a promotional ticket package? You gotta be kidding me!

Trust me, I’ve heard all the explanations for the downturn. Bad opponents, bad economy, bad timing, and bad weather combining with busy schedules, high def TVs, high ticket prices, and one-and-done fatigue to create a perfect storm of apathy, disinterest, and scalper panic within the BBN. I don’t believe any of it, but regardless of the reasons–just tell me it ain’t so. Indifference to my Wildcats is like a kick to the groin, a sure sign of the apocalypse and the collapse of our tradition as we know it.

For fans growing up before the new millennium, you know exactly what I’m talking about. A UK seat for a basketball game has always been more valuable than family, faith, or food. Like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, it was a golden ticket to status, happiness, and Wildcat enlightenment. As a starry eyed eight-year-old, I remember listening to legendary announcer Cawood Ledford on my transistor radio, dreaming of the day I could see the live, on-court action with my very own eyes. The few times I was given tickets to exhibition games left me sleepless the night before with burgeoning anticipation.

As a UK student, I always participated faithfully in the ticket lotteries, overjoyed whenever my number was finally called. It was an unspoken responsibility to rise early on a Sunday morning for the treasured chance to sit down low in basketball heaven. I saw my share of highlights from the front rows of the student section, but even as a lottery loser, I still made it a priority to attend every single game. In fact, I witnessed the infamous Dirk Minniefield to Sam Bowie half court alley-oop pass and dunk against LSU from my seat in the rafter nosebleeds. To miss a game—any game—due to something as frivolous as studying for a final exam was pure heresy in my mind.

As a die-hard fan after graduation, I lost my mind one year and purchased season tickets four rows from the floor from a friendly neighborhood ticket broker. The two seats cost me more than my entire yearly budget, but to me it was worth the sacrifice. Despite the scorn of the blue haired, big donors seated around me, I always arrived early, stayed late, yelled at the refs, and stood up whenever I wanted. Memories of watching–from floor level–Rick Pitino’s beatdown during his return to Rupp, Tayshaun hitting those five threes against North Carolina, and Ashley’s pit stains up close and personal still sends me into a state of nostalgic ecstasy.

Due to my current media gig, I gave up my usual seats in the end zone of Rupp a couple of years ago. I’ll be the first to admit, the separation hasn’t been easy. Experiences in Rupp are like incremental rites of passage, watershed moments that define who you are and where you’ve been. John Wall’s first game heroics against Miami of Ohio and Anthony Davis’ game saving block against North Carolina are remembered as vividly as your wedding day or the birth of your first child. It’s precisely memories such as those that leave me perplexed and befuddled as to why people have quit coming.

“We’re number one in the country in attendance, we’re just not as high as we’ve been,” said Coach Cal when I asked him to give me his take on all the empty seats. “That’s kind of like when we win by 16 and you people are mad we don’t win by 25. We’re number one in attendance. And there are games I don’t feel like coming to, so I get it.”

You see, that’s the problem. I’m not sure Cal or the university administration fully gets it. Everyone knows that what sets Kentucky Basketball apart from Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, or UCLA is the passion of the fans. Whether it’s the Unforgettables, or Team Turmoil, or a Billy G. train wreck, BBN’s identity has always been wrapped up in their massive and undying fan following. Long-time fans like me show up and attend games, regardless of circumstances, or whether the team soars or stinks.

Calipari and others pooh-pooh the declining Rupp attendance as simply a sign of the times. I think it signals the beginning of something a bit more ominous. If not the apocalypse, then perhaps the beginning of a subtle citizen’s revolt, a barely perceptible undercurrent of discontent about the direction the program is headed and the way the “average Joe” fans are treated–dismissively cast aside for the sake of the almighty dollar. You’ve already seen it happen in football. Could our sacred basketball program be next?

Call me old fashioned, but I never thought I’d see the day when Kentucky Basketball couldn’t fill Rupp Arena. Is it a sign of the times or a sign of the apocalypse? We’ll know better after the next three games.

John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang/

 

A Wildcat Salute to Veterans

Saturday is Veterans Day, a public holiday honoring all those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. It’s a special day for me, a first-generation immigrant, army veteran, and Wildcat fan living out the American Dream in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

As a kid growing up in the Sixties, my first memories of the US Military were during the Vietnam War. I vividly remember my dad and I sitting in front of our black and white Zenith, watching all the shaky images and endless newsfeeds of rice paddies, helicopters, and body counts. What was even more abhorrent, though, were the stories of Vietnam vets returning home to shameful receptions and disgraceful homecomings. My eight-year-old brain just couldn’t comprehend how you could be treated like crap while dying for your country.

How times have changed in the last fifty years. Rather than being spat upon, Armed Forces Veterans are now brazenly revered for their service. We’re recognized as heroes at nearly all sporting events, church services, and while walking through airports. As an army veteran, I can get tickets to ballgames, a haircut on the house, or a free meal at Golden Corral if I wish.

I’m proud of my service, but like many others who signed up, I didn’t do it for the accolades. I didn’t get commissioned, either, because I wanted to jump out of planes, eat MREs, or kill Communists. I signed up because it was the right thing to do for me at the time. As a recent dental school graduate, I needed to gain experience, save money, and see the world. The fact that I might have to die for my country while serving was just a minor inconvenience in my youthful idealistic mindset. Honestly, I never really thought much about the sacrifice required.

As it turned out—during my decade of service–rather than shooting my M-16, I ended up shooting Novocain. Instead of defusing bombs, I restored bombed-out molars. In lieu of drilling with staff sergeants, I drilled on full bird colonels (ouch!). Through Grenada, Panama, and the first Gulf War, I never got deployed to the front lines of battle, but I knew others who did that didn’t make it back. With time to reflect, I’m prouder than ever now to have served my country using my specialized skills.

Having survived and advanced into my current life in sports media, I was ecstatic upon hearing that the University of Kentucky would be honoring veterans during the Lexington Week of Valor. To see and hear the coaches and players of my alma mater paying homage to all who have so valiantly defended our freedoms somehow resonated deeply within both the soldier and the sports junkie in me.

“The freedoms that we all enjoy are because people are willing to put their life on the line for all of us,” said UK Men’s Basketball coach John Calipari. “You can’t ever take that lightly. Now we have Americans around the globe trying to protect us here at home in what they’re doing. (That’s something) for my team and for all of us to really recognize.” After a moment of somber reflection, he added, “Yeah, this is a special time, especially now with all that’s going on around the world.”

“We feel so blessed to play in Memorial Coliseum,” said UK Women’s Basketball coach Matthew Mitchell. “So many Kentuckians have paid the ultimate sacrifice, so we can live in America and have the freedom that we have that so many people around the globe don’t have. We are so thankful for the people who have made that sacrifice and are out there right now sacrificing and protecting us and keeping us safe. I have utmost respect for our military and our veterans.”

The thing I love most about sports is the passion it generates within me. It’s embarrassing to admit how euphoric I get after the Wildcats win and how dejected I am after they lose. Despite my passion, I also know that victories or defeats simply aren’t important in the overall world scheme. What is important is life, liberty, and national security—a monumental task delegated to the brave men and women of the United States Military. For many of them, sports is an outlet, a diversion, and an oasis from the real-world reality of Kim Jong-un, disaster relief, and terrorist threats. It’s a much-needed distraction from the isolation, stress, and danger of always residing in harm’s way. I can’t tell you how many times just perusing through my tattered month-old issues of The Cats’ Pause–reading about my beloved Wildcats—brought a smile to my face during the endless lonely winters while stationed abroad. I’m honored to be able to repay the favor.

For me, sports and service are forever intertwined. I asked former Kentucky quarterback-turned-football guru Freddie Maggard for some of his Veterans Day thoughts. After all, he lived the sport that I only dreamed about playing. He waxes eloquently about the extraordinary bond between his football and military experiences.

“Much like looking your teammates in the eyes in a huddle, in the military the man or woman to your left or right must be as valuable to you as the next breath you take. The term “having your back” takes on a whole new meaning. The term Battle Buddy is taught to soldiers in Basic Combat Training. I’m blessed to have Battle Buddies for life. That’s what it’s all about; selflessly serving your fellow teammates or soldiers… I’m proud to be a Kentuckian. I’m more proud to be a veteran much like my dad was. Fortunately, I get to spend most days with my hero as my wife is nearing in on 20 years of service and has accomplished a great deal in her career as a Warrant Officer. She is the epitome of a professional and adheres to the Army leadership values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. God Bless America.”

HOOAH! On behalf of Freddie, Coach Cal, Coach Mitchell, the University of Kentucky Wildcats, and a grateful Big Blue Nation, we hereby salute all United States Military Veterans past and present. Whether you actually played the game or you’re just a fan at heart, we’re cheering you on. Thank you for your service. Happy Veterans Day. This one’s on me.

John Huang is a retired orthodontist currently covering University of Kentucky Sports for Nolan Group Media. He served ten years on active duty in the United States Army Dental Corps attaining the rank of Major. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang/

I Am Rick Pitino

Many of you have recently asked me my opinion about Rick Pitino and his role in the U of L scandal. Up until now, I’ve purposely refrained from commenting until more of the facts came in. With the ongoing federal investigations, threatened lawsuits, and invariable delays on the docket, I may be senile before any final conclusions are drawn. So I figured I might as well go ahead and throw in my two cents now before I retire to the rocker.

I’m a Kentucky fan at heart, so it shouldn’t surprise you that my sentiments about Pitino have fluctuated from heroic to hated, depending on where he was coaching at the time. In my lead up column to the regular-season UK/UL basketball game last December, I described how those sentiments converged:

“When Rick Pitino became Louisville’s coach back in 2001, the floodgates opened, replacing my enduring admiration with outright contempt. I’m a “loyalty” kind of guy and what Rick did was unforgivable. I appreciate what he accomplished at UK but I’ll never understand anyone turning Benedict Arnold. You don’t sleep with the enemy, stab your former employer in the back, or marry your ex-wife’s best friend. Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat. I think that’s the problem with Rick—he was never really a Wildcat. Even when Little Ricky was leading Kentucky to the ’96 national championship, I always felt he was just a displaced big city dude thinking he was doing us hayseeds a giant favor. Maybe that says more about my own personal insecurities regarding my Kentucky roots than anything else, so who am I to judge?”

Now after his marital infidelity, strippers in the dorm, and the ongoing FBI probe, everyone’s judging Rick. We’ve been inundated with columns, commentaries, and podcasts castigating his lack of moral integrity. Social media mavens are having field days with quips, GIFs, and wisecracks satirizing his embarrassing indiscretions. Through it all, Rick simply can’t keep his own mouth shut, continuing to draw more attention to himself at a time where humility, contrition, and discretion would serve him much better.

I’m not condoning any of what Pitino has been accused of doing. Lying, cheating, infidelity, greed, and pride are never the keys to success. The University of Louisville was completely correct in letting him go. I’m surprised they didn’t fire him sooner. But that doesn’t mean we need to keep kicking a man when he’s down, dragging his name through the mud, or making hurtful jokes for the sake of additional clicks. Call me cynical, but I think what happened at U of L is happening to some degree at every single program in America. That doesn’t make it right—just a bit less surprising when the perpetrators are caught. The UK/UL rivalry just won’t be the same without Pitino. Both fans and media alike will soon suffer from his obvious absence.

Retired Army General Colin Powell once said, “Power corrupts, but absolute power is…pretty darn neat.” That’s what happened to Pitino and the rest of the Louisville heads of state. They became intoxicated with power and operated as if they were above the law. They succumbed to the soothing serenade of their sycophants and honestly believed that they were pooping ice cream. Did Rick know what was going on under his watch? Probably so—but even if he didn’t, violations of that magnitude can’t be tolerated. Whether intentionally dismissive or incompetently ignorant, Pitino didn’t want to upset the gravy train.

How many of us, if we were truly honest with ourselves, would have acted differently from Rick had we been placed in similar circumstances? Who amongst us, when presented with a chance for fame, fortune, and the lure of success beyond our wildest imaginations, wouldn’t have found a way to justify our motives and rationalize our purposes? Which of you, when faced with important lifestyle choices, haven’t made dumb decisions you would later regret? I’d love to think that I’m above all that, but who’s to say? Realistically speaking, we’re all just one small temptation away from crashing and burning. The only thing saving many of us is our lack of opportunity.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that when it comes to character flaws, human frailties, and personality glitches, I’m as gullible as the next guy. I’m no better than Rick, so I derive no joy in his fall from grace. When it comes right down to it, I am Rick Pitino. I may not have his coaching acumen, his Armani suits, or his social standing from a fabulous career, but given the right circumstances, I’d probably muck it up just like he did. For those reasons, I’m not judging Rick Pitino. I certainly won’t throw stones at him in his hour of trouble. And neither should you.

John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media and Bluegrass Sports Nation. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang/

Positively Presidential

Kentucky’s 40-34 victory over Missouri was resoundingly memorable—but probably not in the way you’re thinking. Sure, Stephen Johnson was solid as usual, passing for 298 yards and 2 touchdowns. Benny Snell Jr. was also decent, rushing for 117 yards and two scores, including a career-long 71-yard jaunt in the second quarter. Unfortunately, the Wildcat secondary went MIA all evening, allowing the Tigers a whopping 568 total yards on several humongous passing plays. Despite all the drama, the Cats go to 5-1 on the year heading into their bye week, with a colossal matchup against Mississippi State in Starkville looming on the imminent horizon.

As is so often the case, the personal significance of a particular ballgame lies not so much in the final result, but in the experiences surrounding the people attending. For this game, I was fortunate enough to witness some of the action from the presidential suite of Dr. Eli Capilouto. The UK president had invited my ninety-year-old father and his grandson as personal guests—with my brother, sister-in-law, and I drafting behind as tag-a-long visitors. You see, my dad personifies benevolence on a grand scale. His generous donations creating a series of endowed university scholarships have earned him this special invitation.

I’ve rarely been in a stadium suite, much less the presidential luxury suite. I generally don’t get to mingle with rich people and I’m never comfortable hobnobbing with the academic and political elite, but seeing my dad and his grandson in the presence of royalty–enjoying a Kentucky football homecoming win amongst such lavish surroundings–brought a tear or two even to these calloused eyes. Because even though he’s essentially giving away my inheritance through his altruism, I don’t really care. Seeing him honored in such a personal way, evoked a sense of internal pride I never knew existed.

My father, “Pete” Huang, is a first-generation Chinese immigrant embodying the American dream. In 1967, this amazing man moved his family to Lexington, joined the Civil Engineering faculty, and started a life-long love affair with the University of Kentucky that extends to this day. In addition to instilling in me the importance of a solid education, he also introduced me to a passion for sports—specifically UK basketball and football. Although we never had regular access to tickets, we rarely missed any games—faithfully listening to Cawood’s radio broadcasts while sitting at the kitchen table balancing algebraic equations and factoring polynomials.

Not only did all three of the Huang children obtain UK undergraduate degrees, we all received graduate diplomas and professional doctorates from Big Blue U. You might say we’re entirely inbred. As a result, the UK Colleges of Pharmacy, Dentistry, and Medicine churned out three die-hard Wildcat fans that will forever bleed blue. If you added up the number of years that Pete and his children were affiliated with UK as students and faculty, the cumulative total comes out to an amazing 81 years.

Having already poured out his heart and soul in a lifetime of service to the University, Pete wanted to continue giving in a tangible way. Through these Huang Family Endowed Scholarships, he’s hoping that future deserving students will continue to benefit from some of the same educational opportunities that he provided for us. John Wesley, the Christian theologian credited with leading the Methodist movement, once said, “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” My dad, in his lifetime, has certainly taken those simple and direct words to heart.

Early in the game, as Stephen Johnson connected with Blake Bone for a touchdown that put the Cats up 7-0, I glanced surreptitiously over at my dad. He seemed as though he was lost in his thoughts, perhaps reliving the life events that brought him to the incongruity of this particular moment. I found myself doing the same—wondering how first-generation father-and-son immigrants, born of such modest means a world away, could somehow end up in the Presidential Suite together, cheering so passionately for the Blue and White.

In this day and age, when arguments abound of whether student athletes should be paid, it’s validating to see that many still deem the establishment of university scholarships as worthy endeavors. Two of the biggest influences in my lifetime have been my parents and the University of Kentucky. When the two team up in such a magnanimous way, the results become positively presidential.

John Huang is a retired orthodontist and a columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at Huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang/

 

Why I Like Mark Stoops

Football is a rigorous and carnal sport, so I like my head football coaches fiery and passionate. When the chips are down, I want a leader who’s pacing the sideline, red-faced and emotional, motivating players, yelling at assistants, and arguing with refs. Show me someone calm and collected, reticent and reserved, tight lipped and poker faced, and I’ll show you a coach who looks as if he doesn’t give a damn. Give me Woody Hayes over Jim Tressel any day of the week. I’ll take an animated Pete Carroll over a stoic Bill Belichick just for the difference in energy level alone. Marvin Lewis in this day and age? No thanks! Enthusiasm, spirit, and zeal are what counts in my book.

For this reason, I like Mark Stoops. The fifth-year UK head football coach has always worn his emotions on his sleeve while pacing the sidelines of both Commonwealth Stadium and Kroger Field. He’s been known to give the officials an earful when he thinks his team’s been shafted. I’ve seen him toss a few headphones as the clock winds down and his team fails to execute. In the closing seconds of the Georgia loss last year, I thought seriously that he’d blow a gasket. When he stormed onto the field, shouting at the opposing sidelines during the bowl game against Georgia Tech, I fully expected fisticuffs to follow.

The fraternity of recent Wildcat football coaches hasn’t really been rife with outwardly demonstrative characters. Joker Phillips often appeared comatose on the sidelines and unfortunately his team usually reflected his demeanor. I don’t remember Guy Morriss being much more animated either. Bill Curry was just one notch above the walking dead while Hal Mumme was more flakey than exuberant. Rich Brooks and Jerry Claiborne would occasionally let loose, but in a grandfatherly kind of way. Fran Curci reminded me of a mafia don—too cool to mess with on the field of play.

One of the biggest knocks against the current UK head coach is his lack of sideline management during urgent situations. Immediately after the heart-wrenching defeat against Florida last week, Stoops took a boatload of criticism for the eye-popping mistakes that cost his team the game. Even for someone like me, who has never coached a game outside of my Fantasy football league, those boo-boos were inexcusable. Give the guy credit, though, he owned up to them immediately. “There’s things that we all can do better, starting with myself,” Stoops said during his weekly press conference Monday. “That (loss) hurt (and) that we have to take responsibility for, that we have to do better (and) it starts with me.”

The interesting thing is that as temperamental as Stoops appears on the sidelines, he’s completely different when he’s away from the football field. I’ve seen him at charity events and social functions and he’s as relaxed as my newly permed hair. You won’t see him stomping around the neighborhood kicking yard signs and scaring toddlers. When he’s around friends and family, he appears to be just another normal dude. Heck, I’ve even seen him shooting hoops with his sons and cuddling his puppy.

So when it came time for me to ask him directly about how his emotions play into his coaching style, here’s what he said. “It’s an emotional game,” he acknowledged. “That’s for sure. But there’s also a lot of poise that it takes to execute in this game. Our players are the same way. I want them to have great emotion, but they have to play with discipline. As a coach there’s always that fine line that you have to go with your gut instincts on what those players need at that moment. That’s the way I’ve always been and probably how I’ll always be. But, certainly, you have to have the poise and the execution. That’s what’s most important.”

Take some poise, execution, and discipline, and mix in a heaping helping of passion, emotion, and fire—and you’ve got the ingredients for a winning football coach. Now toss in a generous serving of humility and a big dose of accountability just for good measure. That’s Mark Stoops, and that’s why I like him.

John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang/