John Calipari to Kentucky?

Andrew ZercieCorrespondent IMarch 28, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 21:  Head Coach John Calipari of the Memphis Tigers yells and points a finger from the sideline during their second round game against the Maryland Terrapins in the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Sprint Center on March 21, 2009 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Tigers defeated the Terrapins 89-70.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
I understand the disappointment many in the Bluegrass State are feeling. The SEC was the weakest major conference this season, and Kentucky had to stand out in order to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament this year.
At one point, Kentucky was 16-4 and 5-0 in SEC games, seemingly on their way to the Dance. Then, the bottom dropped out. Kentucky went 3-8 the rest of the regular season and 1-1 in the SEC Tournament.

Despite two wins over Tennessee that flashed their potential, Kentucky lost too many games against teams they had no business losing to (Georgia, Mississippi). Ability-wise, Kentucky couldn’t separate themselves from South Carolina, Florida, or Vanderbilt, all NIT teams.

I can understand the idea that Billy Gillispie was not the coach that the Kentucky administration, the players, the boosters, and the fans thought he would be. There really is no excuse for a “bubble team” to lose to a team that is 3-13 in conference play, as Georgia was.

If poor performance is the reason to terminate Gillispie’s contract, I can understand.

Apparently, though, the bigger issue that Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart had with Gillispie was his inability to connect with his team, the boosters, the fans, and anyone else who bleeds blue and attends games at Rupp the way churchgoers go to mass.

When job performance isn’t the primary reason for a firing, something fishy is going on. Perhaps the writing was on the wall for Gillispie when he agreed to take the reins in the spring of 2007 but then never signed a contract.

While it has been written that Gillispie made that decision, I find that hard to believe. 

Barnhart stated yesterday that Kentucky is not obligated to pay Gillispie a $6 million buyout because the contract was never signed. Gillispie not putting pen to paper sure looks good for the university now.

Speculation has already begun as to who the university is targeting next. If they don’t wind up with a big-name, Final Four-tested coach, and instead go the up-and-comer route as they did with Gillispie two years ago, it will be a mistake.

Clearly, it takes a media-savvy, well-connected, smooth-talking coach who stays one leg up on the competition in recruiting.

With a description like that, there’s only one name to consider. John Calipari.

As a program, Memphis has peaked. Short of winning a national championship, there is little else Calipari can do there, and it is a difficult task to consistently reload to achieve that goal when the program’s best players leave after one year for the NBA.

Memphis has some tradition, and Calipari has done a nice job restoring the luster to that program. The Tigers have been the dominant team in Conference USA for several years and have been to the Sweet 16 four straight years.

Does a player such as Derrick Rose or Tyreke Evans even entertain the thought of going to Memphis five years ago? Calipari made Memphis relevant again. He has everything Kentucky is looking for.

And Kentucky has everything Calipari is looking for, too. They play in a major conference and have a national following. Kentucky draws recruits from anywhere in the country. Additionally, Kentucky produces more revenue and has more resources than Memphis.

If Kentucky makes the right call, pursues Calipari, and winds up hiring him, they return to the national spotlight.

If Calipari is offered the job, takes it, and finally wins an NCAA championship with the Wildcats, it could catapult him into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

It’s almost too good to be true. Make it happen!