Mitch Barnhart's most important ideas rarely come to him while he's sitting in his office atop the Joe Craft Center.
"I do my best thinking when I sort of get out there in the middle of nowhere," the Kentucky athletics director said Wednesday.
His idea for the 15-by-15-by-15 plan, calling for 15 championships and a top-15 national overall ranking for the UK athletic department by 2015 came in a cabin at a state park.
"I remember writing it on the back of a note pad, just sort of throwing darts on a wall and trying to find a figure," Barnhart said of a 2008 staff retreat.
The 2015 figure stuck and he built the concept of a strong overall athletics department around it.
Turns out UK was a year early on at least one portion of his plan, finishing a school-best No. 11 in the national Directors' Cup standings announced Friday morning.
Kentucky, whose previous best was No. 25 reached last year, finished third in the Southeastern Conference this season behind Florida (No. 2) and Texas A&M (No. 10).
Two weeks ago, Stanford's athletics department clinched the cup, which awards points for success across all sports.
In an interview with the Herald-Leader this week, Barnhart beamed as he talked about how UK's coaches in every sport have embraced the idea of building a strong department together.
"It's real easy for people to get sidetracked and think about only themselves," Barnhart said. "It's amazing how many coaches have walked in here and said, 'If I do this, what does that do for us as a department?'"
Kentucky's head coaches have become competitive with one another for grade-point averages and wins percentages. They don't want to be the team dragging down UK's progress, Barnhart said.
"To their credit, you're allowed to score in 20 sports and we will have scored in 18 this year and everybody is starting to do their part," he said. "There was a time we probably didn't score in 13 or 14 sports if we were lucky."
Eighteen of UK's 22 sports scored points by advancing to the NCAA postseason. Seven teams finished in the top 10 for their respective sports and 15 in the top 20.
His coaches still have a chance to help Barnhart reach the other part of the goal by 2015. The AD said the programs are just four championships (national or conference) shy of getting to 15, and although it seems like a stretch, Barnhart didn't rule it out.
"We've knocked on the door. I'd say in the last two years we've probably knocked on the door of seven or eight championships and quite frankly we've been so close," he said. "But that tells me it's still possible we pick up four next year and get 15 of them."
This also is the time when Barnhart said his staff will begin thinking about the next big set of goals.
"More than just a slogan on the wall," he said. "It's got to be something more. 'Don't quit' doesn't really work anymore."
He's planning a department celebration in August to thank everyone for their hard work in reaching the first of the two goals.
"It's been great for our athletic department," he said. "It's been great for the University of Kentucky and great for this community. It's been fun."
He especially likes how the community has embraced UK's all-around success.
"All of a sudden you go someplace and you hear somebody talking about some of the kids on our track team or you hear someone talking about some of the stuff going on with softball," he said. "And those are cool, cool things. A long time ago those things weren't conversation pieces."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.