Home Arts Coach Matthew Mitchell is staging a “Christmas in Kentucky”

Coach Matthew Mitchell is staging a “Christmas in Kentucky”

The Comeback Kid

Coach Matthew Mitchell stages a ‘blue Christmas’


Coach Matthew Mitchell, who retired last year as head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats women’s basketball team, is staging a comeback.

No, the two-time SEC Coach of the Year — whose retirement was related to an injury he suffered while hiking on vacation in Mexico in March 2020 — will not be returning to the sidelines at Memorial Coliseum or Rupp Arena.

Instead he’ll be taking a different stage: the Lexington Opera House, where he and his Coach Mitchell Band, an eight-person ensemble of Nashville musicians, will give a Christmas concert on December 7, 2021.

Mitchell, 50, will show off his mellow tenor in what he calls “jazzed-up” holiday classics along with an original song, “Christmas in Kentucky,” which he co-wrote with Stephen McWilliams. Released as a single on iTunes and Spotify last month as the title track of the band’s upcoming album, the song imagines “a white Christmas in blue Kentucky / oh how lucky we are.”

Coach Mitchell performs with UK Dance Team at 2019 Blue Blue Madness

“This Christmas, I just wanted people in Kentucky to know how grateful I am to become a Kentuckian,” the Mississippi native says in our recent interview. “It’s my home now and I have a love affair with Kentucky, which is what this concert is all about. We’re going to have a lot of fun.”

Proceeds from the 7 p.m. concert will support Fayette County Public Schools’ extracurricular youth leadership development programs through the Bluegrass Community Foundation and the coach’s own Mitchell Family Foundation, which has awarded about $500,000 to local charities over the past four years.

“Coach Mitchell Presents Christmas in Kentucky” promises to be something of a turning point in his musical sideline, which began in the mid-1990s — when he was still a high school basketball coach in Mississippi — with a pickup band called Coach Mitchell and the B-Team. “We played a lot and had a good time,” he recalls. “I always loved to sing.”

This Christmas, I just wanted people in Kentucky to know how grateful I am to become a Kentuckian…It’s my home now and I have a love affair with Kentucky, which is what this concert is all about.

When he started coaching college ball at Tennessee and Florida, the job was “very demanding, so I took a sizable break,” he recalls. Years later, his wife, Jenna, mentioned to a friend that Mitchell — by then head coach for women’s basketball at Kentucky — had once sung in a band. That led to a performance of the newly formed Coach Mitchell Band at the Children’s Charity of the Bluegrass Golf Classic. Since then, the band has had five or six gigs a year, mostly playing up-tempo covers of classic rock at fundraising events.

Now that the famous retiree has more time to devote to fronting the band — which at the Opera House will boast two guitarists, a bass player, a drummer, a keyboardist and a three-person horn section, all ringers from Nashville — Mitchell envisions its performance schedule picking up considerably, to as many as 20 to 25 concerts in 2022.

“It’s not going to be my full-time job, but it’s going to be a lot of fun for me,” he says. 
“We just like for people to dance and clap and be entertained.”

A new band website will soon launch, Mitchell says, as will the new Christmas album. He and the band will be performing the record’s entire song list at the Opera House.

“I’m not sure I have a great review I can give myself — all I know is that I love to do it,” he says modestly. Only when pressed does he admit, “I can definitely carry a tune.”


This article also appears on page 10 & 11 of the December 2021 print edition of Ace. 

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