Ten observations of Kentucky’s hiring of John Calipari:
1) Anyone who thinks that Calipari won’t win—and win big in the SEC is crazy. Fans of 11 schools will point to the fact that Coach Cal has never had to survive in a real conference before, but one look at his non-conference record proves that the guy can coach and recruit. Even if his overall winning percentage has been a little inflated by the dregs of Conference USA, he’s still more than held his own against top non-conference competition.
2) Anyone expecting Calipari to win like he did at Memphis is expecting too much. Teams don’t often go 16-0 in the SEC, much less for three straight years. While I think UK will get back to “team to beat” status, I think Calipari will have to earn No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. At Memphis they were handed to him.
3) This hire puts Kentucky right back at the top of the SEC. Forget Florida. Tennessee hasn’t taken the next step up. And everyone else is ever farther down the food chain. UK is once again King of the Realm.
4) That’s a good thing for the SEC in general. Every league needs a standard-bearer. From a national perspective, Kentucky is THE basketball school in the SEC. If UK is down—as they were this year—the national media picks up on it and it hurts the overall prestige of the conference. The league’s other teams don’t get quite as much credit for good seasons if they happen to have them while Kentucky is down.
5) ESPN has to be jumping for joy today. They grabbed the SEC basketball package just in time for the Kentucky-Calipari marriage.
6) As if Calipari wouldn’t recruit well enough with Worldwide Wes and the name “Kentucky” to sell, now he’ll be beamed into every high schooler’s home on ESPN each week.
7) SEC fans, get ready for it… ESPN is about to become to Kentucky basketball what NBC is to Notre Dame football. UK is the premiere program. UK is the top selling point. UK will get the majority of basketball exposure. And the fan bases of the other 11 schools will hate every second of it.
8) I don’t like the fact that Calipari had Letters of Intent with escape clauses for his Memphis signees. And I don’t think it’s fair that most coaches are keelhauled for luring prospects from their old school to their new school while everyone seems to be panting over the possibility of Coach Cal doing it for Kentucky. I’m no Memphis fan, but doesn’t anyone feel like they’re getting wrongly screwed by a guy that supposedly loved them just 24 hours ago? I’m hoping Calipari doesn’t raid the UM cupboard, but you can bet he will.
9) I think the national view on this move—like it or not, UK fans—will be that Kentucky will win at all costs. UK will fire a coach after two years. UK will hire a coach with a questionable reputation. UK will race to get a winner in place quickly, despite past shortcomings when it came to background checks. And UK will break new ground in spending to do it. The ends justify the means. That’s the national view of Kentucky. Sorry.
10) Even though I believe that that perception is a bit exaggerated, I do have two issues with UK on these recent events. If UK had said, “Gillispie didn’t win enough,” I could deal with them hiring a guy like Calipari. But they tried to paint the decision as simply a matter of “fit.” “He couldn’t build relationships.”
Well, I don’t know if anyone in Lexington has read Calipari’s dossier, but he’s had his own history of bad relationships. Also, while I have no problem with schools spending money on coaches, UK president Lee Todd has been very vocal about how academics and athletics are connected at Kentucky. Except in this case, apparently. So I take issue with some of the BS the UK folks are shoveling.
That said, go back to Point One.
Calipari is going to win big at Kentucky. And for the fans, that’s all that matters.