Who should be the ‘Kentucky Wildcats Coach of the Year’ for 2021-22?

·5 min read

If there was such a thing as a “Kentucky Wildcats Coach of the Year Award,” who should it go to for 2021-22?

It is a testament to the all-around strength of the athletics department that Mitch Barnhart and Co. have constructed in Lexington that there are at least six UK head coaches who, in my view, have a viable claim on having done the most impressive coaching job in the just completed school year.

That number does not even include Craig Skinner, who led Kentucky women’s volleyball to its fifth straight SEC regular-season championship but saw his team’s defense of its 2020 national championship end in an upset loss to Illinois in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

So who turned in the top performance among UK head coaches in 2021-22? In alphabetical order, let’s examine the candidates:

JOHAN CEDERGREN

Sport: Men’s soccer.

The 2021-22 report card: Coached UK to a 15-2-4 record. The Wildcats won the Conference USA Tournament championship as the No. 4 seed, upsetting top-seeded FIU in the semifinals. After defeating Santa Clara in the NCAA Tournament opener, Kentucky fell 2-1 at Clemson in the Sweet 16.

The big picture: Over the past four years, Cedergren and UK are 59-14-10 and have advanced to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16 three times. A breakthrough trip to Kentucky’s first men’s soccer Final Four feels close.

Directors’ Cup points scored for UK in 2021-22: 64.

UK men’s soccer coach Johan Cedergren has led Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament’s round of 16 three times in the past four seasons.
UK men’s soccer coach Johan Cedergren has led Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament’s round of 16 three times in the past four seasons.

KYRA ELZY

Sport: Women’s basketball.

The 2021-22 report card: Has any Kentucky coach ever endured more of a roller-coaster ride than Elzy this past season? Beset by injuries and disciplinary suspensions, UK (19-12, 8-8 SEC) was all but unwatchable in the middle of the season when the Wildcats went 1-8 from Jan. 9 through Feb. 10.

Yet Elzy persevered, and once her full roster became available, Kentucky went on a remarkable run, winning 10 straight games. The final three of those victories — over Kim Mulkey-coached LSU; the historically regal Tennessee Lady Vols; and Dawn Staley’s No. 1-ranked and eventual NCAA champion South Carolina — led to UK’s first SEC Tournament title in 40 years.

The big picture: Some of the “feel-good” mojo from the epic late-season run was lost in a 69-62 NCAA Tournament upset defeat to Princeton in the round of 64.

Yet, after the season, Elzy again proved resourceful when four key players transferred. Going to work in the transfer portal, UK added four players, including former McDonald’s All-Americans Maddie Scherr (Oregon) and Eniya Russell (South Carolina).

Directors’ Cup points scored for UK in 2021-22: 25.

Kentucky Coach Kyra Elzy put on a championship cap after UK upset No. 1 South Carolina 64-62 to win the 2022 Southeastern Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Kentucky Coach Kyra Elzy put on a championship cap after UK upset No. 1 South Carolina 64-62 to win the 2022 Southeastern Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament.

LONNIE GREENE

Sports: Men’s and women’s track and field, both indoor and outdoor, and cross country.

The 2021-22 report card: Led by Abby Steiner and Masai Russell, the Kentucky women’s track team finished third in the NCAA outdoor championships and tied the school record by scoring 50 points. The UK women also finished third in the NCAA indoor championships and set a school mark with 44 points in that meet.

The big picture: Given the challenging task of following rock-star coach Edrick Floreal atop the UK track program in 2018, it felt like Greene fully put his own stamp on the Wildcats program in 2021-22. Kentucky rewarded him with a contract extension through 2026-27.

Directors’ Cup points scored for UK in 2021-22: 286 — an average of 47.7 per team coached.

Kentucky cross country and track and field head coach Lonnie Greene celebrated after the UK women’s team finished third at the 2022 NCAA indoor championships in March.
Kentucky cross country and track and field head coach Lonnie Greene celebrated after the UK women’s team finished third at the 2022 NCAA indoor championships in March.

CEDRIC KAUFFMANN

Sport: Men’s tennis.

The 2021-22 report card: Directed Kentucky (26-8) on a Cinderella run to the NCAA Tournament finals, where the Cats were defeated 4-0 by Virginia. The enchanted run included UK making the NCAA Tournament’s round of eight for the first time since 2011 and — after upsetting No. 1 overall seed TCU — reaching the Final Four for the first time ever.

The big picture: To be answered moving forward is whether Kentucky’s breakthrough in 2022 was a one-off or a sign of an elevating program.

Directors’ Cup points scored for UK in 2021-22: 90.

Kentucky men’s tennis head coach Cedric Kauffmann led the Wildcats to the 2022 NCAA Tournament finals for the first time in school history.
Kentucky men’s tennis head coach Cedric Kauffmann led the Wildcats to the 2022 NCAA Tournament finals for the first time in school history.

HARRY MULLINS

Sport: Rifle.

The 2021-22 report card: Another year, another national championship for Mullins. Led UK (10-1) to the NCAA team championship for the second year in a row; the third time since 2018; and the fourth time overall.

The big picture: With four NCAA titles (2011, 2018, 2021, 2022) now on his résumé, Mullins has matched former UK men’s basketball coach Adolph Rupp for the most Division I team national championships by a coach in the commonwealth.

Directors’ Cup points scored for UK in 2021-22: 100.

Kentucky rifle coach Harry Mullins, right, has led the Wildcats to NCAA team championships in 2011, 2018, 2021 and 2022.
Kentucky rifle coach Harry Mullins, right, has led the Wildcats to NCAA team championships in 2011, 2018, 2021 and 2022.

MARK STOOPS

Sport: Football.

The 2021-22 report card: Coached Kentucky (10-3, 5-3 SEC) to its second 10-win season and its second winning SEC record in the past four years. Defeated No. 15 Iowa 20-17 in the VRBO Citrus Bowl, Kentucky’s fourth straight bowl victory.

The big picture: Stoops is now responsible for two of Kentucky’s four 10-win seasons and two of UK’s nine winning SEC records. At 59-53, Stoops will enter 2022 needing one victory to tie and two to pass Bear Bryant (60-23-5) as Kentucky football’s all-time wins leader.

Directors’ Cup points scored for UK in 2021-22: 60.

Mark Stoops (59-53) needs two more victories to pass Bear Bryant (60-23-5) as the all-time wins leader in Kentucky football coaching history.
Mark Stoops (59-53) needs two more victories to pass Bear Bryant (60-23-5) as the all-time wins leader in Kentucky football coaching history.

From six eminently deserving candidates, who should be the 2021-22 Kentucky Wildcats Coach of the Year? I am partial to coaches who preside over major breakthrough seasons for their programs.

So my vote would go to Cedric Kauffmann.

Vote: Who is the University of Kentucky’s ‘Coach of the Year’ for all sports in 2021-22?