The Comeback Kid
Coach Matthew Mitchell stages a ‘blue Christmas’
BY KEVIN NANCE
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.”
“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.”
“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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