The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame has announced that British sporting director Mitch Barnhart will be the recipient of the 2022 NFF John L. Toner Award. He will be officially honored on December 6 at the 64th Annual NFF Awards Program in Las Vegas. .
First presented in 1997, the John L. Toner Award recognizes directors of athletics who have demonstrated superior administrative abilities and demonstrated exceptional dedication to college athletics and especially college football. The award is named in honor of its first recipient, the late John L. Toner, former Connecticut athletic director and football coach. Toner, president of the NCAA from 1983 to 1985, joined the NFF board of directors in 1988 and served as vice president from 2000 to 2008.
“For two decades, Mitch Barnhart has ably guided Kentucky as one of collegiate athletics’ foremost leaders,” said NFF President and CEO Steve Hatchell. “He is committed to ensuring that Wildcat student-athletes succeed on and off the field. We are pleased to present him with the 2022 NFF John L. Toner Award in recognition of his distinguished career.
Hired in 2002, Barnhart will enter his 21st year as Kentucky’s athletic director this fall. He has consistently invested in the growth of all UK teams while maintaining a singular commitment to the holistic development of Wildcat student-athletes.
Matching resources to expectations has remained a hallmark of Barnhart’s tenure, with evidence in the form of student-athlete support, staff improvements, and $300 million in facility upgrades since 2007. At the Heart of It All are the core values he instilled in the service he leads: character, integrity, knowledge, stewardship and competitiveness.
On the football field, Barnhart hired current Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops ahead of the 2013 season, resulting in one of the best runs in program history. The 2018 SEC Coach of the Year, Stoops led the UK to six consecutive games, including four consecutive wins following the team’s victory over Iowa in the 2022 Vrbo Citrus Bowl. The Wildcats have recorded 10 seasons wins in 2018 and 2021 after not hitting double-digit wins since 1977.
In 2018, Josh Allen won the Bednarik Award and the Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player. In 2007, standout tight end Jacob Tamme was selected as the NFF National Athlete Scholar. Kentucky is also one of 26 programs at all levels of play to have at least one player represented during the 16 years of the NFF Hampshire Honor Society (2007-22), which honors college football players who have each maintained a GPA of 3.2 or better. throughout their university career.
With help from the SEC, UK HealthCare and state and local authorities, Barnhart has kept the Wildcats on the pitch and healthy in 2020-21 while coping with the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Kentucky football team was able to play all of its scheduled games and topped the campaign with a victory over No. 23 North Carolina State in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.
Barnhart also served as chairman of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee that season and was instrumental in establishing the new procedure to bring all 68 teams together in one location and support them with numerous protocols of health and safety. As a result, all but one of the scheduled matches were successfully played.
At Kentucky, Barnhart has established long-standing goals of a 3.0 department-wide GPA among student-athletes and increased community service. The GPA benchmark was first reached in the spring semester of 2010 and has now reached a streak of 20 consecutive semesters. In Spring 2020, UK achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.534, the best in school history.
British athletes have set graduation rate records and maintained a perfect score in the NCAA’s 17-year academic progress rate history, making the UK one of only two SEC schools to have consistently achieved APR compliance.
Community service has grown to more than 4,000 hours per year and includes outreach activities in the Lexington area, the Commonwealth of Kentucky and as far away as Ethiopia, the Dominican Republic and Panama. And, even during the pandemic, the Wildcats have found new ways to serve the public.
British teams have won six national championships during Barnhart’s tenure, including men’s basketball in 2012, women’s volleyball in 2020 and rifle shooting in 2011, 2018, 2021 and 2022.
Barnhart came to the UK from Oregon State, where he spent four successful years (1998-2002) as Director of Sports. Highlights of his tenure with the Beavers include the hiring of College Football Hall of Fame coach Dennis Erickson, who led a massive turnaround at the university. In 1999, Erickson led the Oregon State football program to its first winning season in 29 years and its first bowl appearance in 35 years. Then in 2000, the Beavers won a share of the Pac-10 title for the first time since 1964 and beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl to finish with an 11-1 record and the final No. school history).
Prior to Oregon State, Barnhart worked in athletic administration at Tennessee (1986-98), SMU (1983-86), Oregon (1983), and San Diego State (1982-83).
Barnhart is from Kansas City, Kansas. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Ottawa (KS) in 1981 and a master’s degree in sports administration from Ohio University.