As many of you know by now, John Robic’s father suddenly passed away during the offseason. As with any family member that passes away, it was a difficult time for “Robes” and his family, but particularly so in this case because it was so sudden. To give Robes some time to get his family’s affairs in order and to really, truly grieve, we wanted to give him some time away. To do that, we put Joel Justus on the road recruiting and made him a temporary assistant coach, which the NCAA approved. It was sudden and unfortunate, but it was a move we had to make to keep up with recruiting.
We didn’t plan it this way, but after watching Joel work and knowing John’s strengths, which are many – he’s been with me 20 years, after all – I’ve decided to make this change a permanent one. Effective immediately, Joel Justus will join Kenny Payne and Tony Barbee as one of our assistant coaches. John Robic will take over Joel’s role as a special assistant to me.
I want to take a few moments to explain why we’re making the move, how we got to this point, and why I believe it’s the best move for both John Robic and Joel Justus, as well as this program.
First and foremost, John Robic has been and will continue to be my closest confidant. He has been with me for 20 years as we’ve rebuilt three different programs. Robes has been with me nearly every step of the way over an incredible journey, and he will continue to be as we try to take this thing to the next level.
In his role as special assistant to the head coach, he can and will continue to help me prepare for games, which he’s done his entire career. That won’t change. He will continue to break down film with me, come up with our scouting reports and prepare me for our next opponent. He’s the best in the business at it, and I can’t think of anyone else filling that role.
Joel’s been with us for two years now and has brought a lot to the program. His analytics strengths are great and he’s got great ideas. Now this gives him an opportunity to be involved in the recruiting. Seeing him on the road recruiting over the last couple of months showed me that we need to give him an opportunity to do his thing. I think this could be one of his strengths. His ability to connect with players and spend his full time and effort, especially on underclassmen, will give us a head start in what we’re doing.
I had my staff organized in that we were all recruiting older players because we were recruiting a new team each year. It’s hard to get ahead of yourself when you’re trying to sign a current class and replace as many guys as we normally do, but this temporary move opened up my eyes in that we probably had it wrong. We need one guy focused on the younger guys. We became so fixated on trying to replace players each year that we weren’t touching some of the younger kids and were coming in late. Because of that, just about every other program has been ahead of us on underclassmen recruiting, and it has affected some of the kids who we weren’t able to touch until later in the process. That’s my fault. I believe Joel will greatly help in that area and fills a void.
Now with that said, I don’t see us offering scholarships to freshmen and sophomores. Ultimately what we do is different than other schools, and if you really want to come here, in most cases you’re going to have to let the process run. I just don’t want to be put in a position where I’m walking in on a kid for the first time having been defined for two years by four other programs who are panicked by the prospect of us getting involved. I want to make sure we’re on top of every young kid in the country, especially the ones that dream about Kentucky. That will be part of Joel’s primary focus, and he’s ready for it.
He went out in June and July and did great. It was eye-opening to me to watch him evaluate and form relationships with kids, and it’s not like he hasn’t done this before. He recruited when he was at Elon, so this isn’t brand new to him.
Let me be really clear: I feel I have the best staff of people who surround me in the country. All are strong in areas that I’m weak. All of them understand that the relationships with our current players and working with them every single day to help them get better is the key to their success and this program. No one should look at this in any other way than me trying to shuffle our staff to put them in the best positions to succeed personally and for them to help our program remain the gold standard.
Kenny, Tony and I will continue to work on putting the best incoming classes that we can together with young people who want Kentucky as bad as we want them and who understand that the program isn’t for everyone. By putting Joel where he is and having him focus on who we need to hone in on, we’ll be more prepared than we’ve ever been, which is scary. Robes will continue to focus on his strength of making us the most well-prepared team in the country and putting our kids in positions to succeed.
I’m excited to see how the new structure of our staff improves our ability to help kids reach their dreams.
My mentor, Larry Brown