Why John Calipari Isn't Interested in Coaching in the SEC
There is a torrent of talk on Internet message boards speculating on the possibility that John Calipari might be interested in job openings at Alabama or Georgia, or in a potential job at Kentucky should Billy Gillispie get fired.
Perhaps more correctly, there are thousands of fans at all three of those SEC schools who cast their gaze longingly toward Memphis, TN and assume that he would be eager to work there.
First of all, let me cut straight to the point: Calipari is not interested in any SEC job.
Not today, not tomorrow, not next month, not in July. Call me arrogant, call me misguided, call me stupid, call me for dinner—it will not change a thing.
Calipari is staying at Memphis indefinitely. Here are the reasons why.
Americans everywhere are obsessed with upgrading their station in life.
You are a hotshot high school basketball coach? Next, you want to move up to college.
You are currently a lead recruiter? Then you will keep your eyes open for an associate head coach position.
You have had tremendous success leading your community college to success year after year? The next stop is a Division I head-coaching gig. Then the top job at a more prestigious school, and so on.
After being fired by the New Jersey Nets in 1999, John Calipari was given what amounted to a sympathy job by one of his mentors, Larry Brown, with the Philadelphia 76ers. This amounted to a step back, but it was the best he could do at the time.
He then took a huge step back by accepting the head-coaching job at the University of Memphis. The school had been rocked by repeated scandals—culminating in Tic Price having an affair with a 20-something co-ed—a close to zero percent graduation rate, and increasingly poor results on the court.
At least it was a head-coaching position, at a school that Calipari thought had the potential to move into the upper echelon with hard work and dedication.
According to Calipari, he set the rough sketch of his return to college coaching on a cocktail napkin. He was to receive $565,000 in his first season.
“I said, ‘That’s fine,’” he commented later. “Because in this profession, if you do what you do and you have confidence that you’re going to create value for yourself, either they see it or you go somewhere else.”
Almost a decade later, Calipari is still at Memphis.
Memphis is now—like it, admit it, or not—an elite program. A large reason for that would be their last several recruiting classes. Calipari’s success in recruiting the last few years owes to his acute understanding of how young people think.
“The one thing about a 16-year-old, he doesn't remember much when he was 12," Calipari has remarked. "He remembers 15 and 14, and (since then) we’ve been pretty good.”
Over the last three years, Memphis has been historically good. 132-13 with two Elite Eights and a Championship Game appearance good.
Kentucky is on the extremely short list of best programs ever with Kansas, North Carolina, and UCLA. The problem for UK is this: Most of that is ancient history to the young basketball studs of today.
When Rick Pitino and the Kentucky Wildcats were last cutting a swath through the nation, the DeMarcus Cousins-Xavier Henry types were in grade school, perhaps interested in this crazy new show called SpongeBob SquarePants that their parents thought (hoped?) would go quickly into the night.
Those kids are now coveted recruits, and SpongeBob is still around (why?). And Memphis has been in the headlines while they were thinking about where they wanted to play in college.
The last time Alabama and Georgia were this good in basketball was...never. Those are football schools, to an extreme degree.
On tradition alone, Kentucky would be a step up for Coach Cal. Alabama and Georgia would be huge steps back for Calipari. He is in the position of not having to make such a move.
Then, there is the matter of salary.
After last year’s run, Athletic Director R.C. Johnson extended Calipari’s contract and gave him a huge raise. The base compensation package was increased to $2.35 million.
Additionally, an annuity that Coach Cal was set to receive should he stay in Memphis until 2010 was doubled, from $2.5 million to $5 million...and was added to his salary over the course of the contract.
This essentially raised his pay to $3.35 million per year, excluding bonuses for graduation rates and team accomplishments. He would receive $400,000, for instance, if he were to guide Memphis to a national title.
Only one college basketball coach—Florida’s Billy Donovan, at $3.5 million per annum—takes home more than Calipari.
Gillispie is making a shade under $3 million at Kentucky; Gottfried checked in around $1 million; Felton was being paid about $800,000.
Kentucky could easily make Cal the highest paid coach in America, which would, of course, be an enticing incentive. However, if Memphis goes as far as the Final Four, he will in all likelihood be accorded that distinction anyway.
Alabama and Georgia are left choking on fumes. In addition to the significant steps back in prestige, Calipari would be leaving some serious money on the table.
If Kentucky were to come calling, Calipari would give them the courtesy of listening. He would not take the job, however, and leave behind his incredible incoming recruiting class. The cupboard is not bare just yet at Kentucky, but it is not brimming with the type of athletes that Memphis has hoarded either.
If Alabama or Georgia calls, he might turn them on to one of his assistant coaches.
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