Kentucky women's hoops coach Matthew Mitchell retiring after 13 years, 303 wins

Kentucky women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell has retired after 13 seasons with the Wildcats, athletic director Mitch Barnhart announced Thursday.

Mitchell, with a record of 303-133 at Kentucky, is the winningest coach in the program's history.

"After much conversation with my family and Mr. Barnhart, I have decided to retire from coaching and effectively have resigned as head coach at Kentucky," Mitchell said in a statement. "This was a difficult decision and I know the timing is not ideal, but I do not feel I can give the job what it requires at this time."

Mitchell had surgery over the summer for blood on the brain, which happened after he fell while on vacation and suffered a concussion.

"As has been much publicized, I have had an eventful offseason with my injury and subsequent surgery. I have been open about the fact that the surgery and recovery process has been life-altering for me and my family," Mitchell said. "Through that, my priorities towards 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."

Barnhart said he and Mitchell spoke on multiple occasions about the challenges the coach continued to experience in coming back from brain surgery. Mitchell called the athletic director Wednesday and expressed concern that he still didn't feel 100 percent and had decided to retire. Barnhart said he asked Mitchell to sleep on his decision, but the coach did not change his mind Thursday.

"Matthew is a 100 percent guy," Barnhart said Friday. "If nothing else, he doesn't do anything halfway. It is a 100 percent deal."

Barnhart said they discussed options short of retirement, such as a leave of absence, but the impending start of the regular season dictated accepting the decision.

"He was resolute, and I respect that," Barnhart said. "But also, we couldn't wait. In terms of where we were, we needed to have some direction for our program too. We need to be able to move forward."

Associate head coach Kyra Elzy will take over as the interim head coach for the Wildcats effective immediately. A former Kentucky high school star who left the state to play for Pat Summitt at Tennessee, Elzy was in her second stint as part of Mitchell's coaching staff. Her first four-year run culminated with Kentucky's first SEC championship in the 2011-12 season. After four seasons as an assistant at Tennessee, she returned as associate head coach prior to the 2016-17 season.

Mitchell, who had been an NCAA assistant coach since 2002 and also served as the associate head coach at Kentucky and Tennessee, has a career record of 333-162.

Elzy said Friday that the team would play this season for Mitchell. Kentucky is ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press preseason poll and is led by All-American and presumptive preseason national player of the year Rhyne Howard. Elzy said much of the advice she received in the aftermath of Mitchell's retirement focused on the 6-foot-2 junior guard.

"If all else fails," Elzy said, "put the ball in Rhyne Howard's hands and let her do what she does best."

Barnhart said the school wouldn't have named Elzy coach if it didn't view her as a long-term option, but he wants to have further discussions with her in the weeks ahead.

"As our all-time winningest coach, Matthew Mitchell led us through so many of the great moments in the history of Kentucky basketball, with more than 300 wins, an SEC championship and numerous NCAA tournament appearances," Barnhart said in his statement. "He has been a great ambassador for the University of Kentucky, on and off the court, bringing an energy and style of play that made it fun for players and fans alike."

ESPN's Graham Hays contributed to this report.