The internet has rendered the “strongly worded letter” mostly obsolete. However, if Ron Swanson taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing an old, resentful curmudgeon can’t still accomplish with an opinion and a typewriter.

University of Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart has been stewing for weeks over the officiating during the Music City Bowl, which he feels hurt his Wildcats and ended up aiding Northwestern en route to their 24-23 victory.

The game had its fair share of curious calls, but none more baffling than when UK running back Benny Snell was ejected after touching a referee who was attempting to help him up off the ground. At worst, Snell was overzealous in rebuffing the ref, whose help he did not need.

Clearly, it was something that barely called for a penalty, let alone an ejection. Barnhart took to Twitter following the game to defend his player.

That didn’t quite do it for Barnhart, however. According to, the AD sent an official letter to the Pac-12 Conference, whose referees were involved in the bowl game. They also posted a copy of the letter with a few redacted portions to officially protect student-athletes.

The letter is dated January 5, two days after the mini-tweetstorm. While the letter starts out as a defense of Snell, he also brings up moments in the game where he felt player safety was disregarded. He specifically noted a late hit against UK quarterback Stephen Johnson, who was injured and no penalty was called.

Barnhart saves his strongest condemnation, however, for head referee Chris Coyte and members of his crew.

Specifically, head referee Chris Coyte seemed to have no care for our injured player or willingness to allow our team a few moments to prepare a substitute quarterback to replace him, which is normal protocol in such a situation. His interaction with our staff, in my opinion, did not meet the standards of professionalism needed to manage the difficult task of officiating a high-level college football game. In addition, as frustration mounted, line judge Tim Messuri similarly failed to meet those standards of professionalism. Messuri, hearing that frustration, screamed to our staff ‘Do you want some more of this?’ Threatening more penalties like the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on our bench in the midst of this incident.

Just to even things out, Northwestern also had some issues with the referees in the game. Pat Fitzgerald said the ejection of linebacker Paddy Fisher for targeting “might be the worst call I have ever seen in the history of college football.” ESPN’s announcing crew agreed with the sentiment.

Per, the Pac-12 has yet to respond to the letter.


About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to

1 thought on “Kentucky AD pulls a Ron Swanson, sends strongly worded letter to Pac-12 over referees

  1. The Pac 12 has consistently had the absolute worst football officials in NCAA football. I imagine there have been many letters such as this one written that haven’t been released to the public. It’s brutally bad officiating.

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