Short Leash | Kentucky Fires Kyra Elzy Just Two Seasons After She Led Women’s Basketball Program To First SEC Championship In 40 Years

The Kentucky Wildcats women’s basketball program is undergoing a change following this past season’s 12-19 record, including a dismal 2-14 in the SEC. Athletics director Mitch Barnhart has decided to fire head coach Kyra Elzy, who just two seasons ago led the program to its first SEC championship since 1982.

Making it even sweeter, the win came against powerhouse coach Dawn Staley and her South Carolina Gamecocks squad, currently undefeated and ranked No. 1 overall in the nation entering March Madness.  

Wildcats 24-39 Over Last Two Seasons: Team Could Never Recapture Magical 2022 Season

That was the last time the Gamecocks lost to a conference opponent, having gone 103-3 the last three seasons to date, with one of those losses coming to Kentucky.

But that was two seasons ago, and since then things haven’t been good. Over the past two seasons the Wildcats finished a combined 24-39 overall and 6-26 in the SEC, including losses by an average of 55 points to the Gamecocks this season. That was enough to cost Elzy her job. 

Following the move to fire Elzy, Barnhart released a statement as to why he felt the change was necessary:

“These are never easy days. First I want to thank Kyra Elzy for just her incredible love for this institution and the effort that she put forth to try and move our basketball program along. And I think back to the SEC championship down in Nashville (in 2022) and we celebrated that and just struggled to  build on that just a bit and felt like we needed to do something a little bit different.

But I want to thank her and have so much respect for her as a person and think she will continue to do amazing things somewhere in her journey. And we wish her all the best and her and her family.”

Rhyne Howard Loss Changed Outlook Of Program

Elzy, a Tennessee Volunteers alumna, took the job on an interim basis prior to the 2020-21 season and saw the interim tag removed after a strong start to that season. The 2021-22 season culminated in the upset SEC title win over South Carolina, and despite the team’s first round NCAA Tournament exit that season, things were still looking up. 

A huge part of Elzy’s early success will always be linked to the fact she had the eventual WNBA No. 1 pick leading her team. Guard Rhyne Howard, who won back-to-back SEC Player of the Year awards in (2021 and 2022) led the way.

That made Elzy’s transition much easier and definitely played a role in her fast start. Howard’s ability to score and distribute the basketball made it much easier for Elzy to have success right away. 

She’s carried that same skill set over to the WNBA, where she’s been named an All-Star in both seasons and won WNBA Rookie of the Year honors in 2022. So, for Elzy, losing a player of that magnitude really hurt the trajectory of what she was hoping to accomplish. 

Did Elzy Get A Quick Hook?: SEC Has Won Last Two National Titles, Favorite To Make It Three Straight 

Despite that SEC title loss to the Wildcats in 2022, the Gamecocks went on to cut down the nets in Minneapolis. Conference mate LSU followed suit in 2023, winning it all in Dallas last season. This season the Gamecocks (32-0) and the only undefeated team in men’s or women’s college basketball are the prohibitive favorite to win it all. 

That can’t sit well with Barnhart, who truly believed his Wildcats program was on its way back in 2022, only to see things crater the last two seasons. That’s how quick you can go from rising star to unemployed in this college landscape, where no coach’s job is ever safe. Barnhart is also in a loaded conference with juggernauts like South Carolina and LSU. No coach will change the dominance these programs will have for years to come.

Maybe the AD panicked and succumbed to the pressure. Either way, raw deal for Elzy.  

Back to top