John Calipari Introduced As Kentucky Coach; Effects Stretch Beyond Lexington

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John Calipari Introduced As Kentucky Coach; Effects Stretch Beyond Lexington
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

John Calipari was introduced as the new coach of the Kentucky Wildcats on Wednesday morning at a 9:30 news conference.

 

Calipari spent more than a day mulling over a contract offer of eight-years and $31.65 million from Kentucky that would make him the highest paid coach in college basketball; eclipsing the $3.5 million average salary of Florida’s Billy Donovan.

 

Calipari, who is 445-140 in 17 seasons at Memphis and UMass, has dreamt of coaching the Kentucky program for quite some time.

 

"This was a dream I've had since we brought our team down here," Calipari said. "I believe it was 1992, we [UMass] had won the Alaskan Shootout, came down here to play and I could not believe the environment. At that point I said -- 'I would love to coach there someday."

That day has come, and Calipari will have his work cut out for him.

 

College basketball’s winningest program has not reached the Final Four in 11 years. Not only do the fans expect Final Four appearances, they expect championships.

"The challenge of being here is not just competing for national titles, but winning them," Calipari said. "But that's what you buy into when you come here."

It’s a philosophy that previous coaches such as Rick Pitino, Eddie Sutton, Tubby Smith and Billy Gillispie bought into when taking the job; albeit they had varying ranges of success in carrying out that philosophy.

 

Calipari, who is 50 years old, had a good thing going for him at Memphis. While debating on whether or not to take the Kentucky job, one of college basketball’s most lucrative and scrutinized jobs, he reached out to former Wildcat coaches in order to get a feel for what he’d be getting into.

"I talked to coach [Joe B.] Hall. I talked to Tubby Smith. I talked to Eddie Sutton. And I talked to Rick Pitino about this job. And ... none of those coaches would trade their time here for anything in the world. This is pretty heady stuff for me."

Calipari’s salary not only eclipses Donovan’s $3.5 million at Florida, it absolutely dwarfs that of his predecessors.

Pitino never made more than $2 million a season during his wildly successful eight-year run at Kentucky, in which he lead them to three Final Fours and one National Championship.

Smith received a $2.1 million salary towards the end of his tenure where he was successful in bringing a National Championship to the Wildcats in his rookie campaign, and Gillispie received a $2.3 million salary, with $750,000 available in incentives, during his disappointing two-year run.

In a conference where football reigns supreme, Calipari’s salary nearly triples the $1.6 million of head football coach Rich Brooks.

Athletic director Mitch Barnhart defended the salary, saying that Calipari "can flat out coach."

Calipari’s record speaks for itself, and his Memphis Tigers are the only team in the nation to have received a No.1 or No.2 seed the past four years in the NCAA Tournament.

 

Coach Cal’s success is not just limited to his ability to win on the court. Calipari is known as one of the nation’s best recruiters, and that is none more evident than by the class that WAS coming to Memphis next fall.

 

Calipari had assembled one of the best draft classes in recent history headlined by the No. 1 overall prospect in ESPNU’s top 100, Xavier Henry, and another top 100 prospect in Nolan Dennis.

 

Memphis had also received a verbal commitment from the No.4 prospect DeMarcus Cousins, and many believed that the No. 6 prospect, and top point guard in the class, John Wall, would commit to Memphis as well.

 

Both Henry and Cousins said Tuesday in Miami at the McDonald's All-American game that they would re-open the recruiting process now that Calipari is leaving.

 

It is not uncommon for recruits to follow coaches to new schools.

 

Nick Williams, an ESPNU 100 prospect in 2008, followed Tom Creen to Indiana after the coach left Marquette. Williams had initially signed with Marquette, but the University was gracious enough to let him out of his commitment.

 

The process does not always work out so smoothly.

 

Jeff Withey, another standout in the 2008 class, originally signed with Arizona. After Lute Olson’s sudden retirement, Withey wanted out of the unstable atmosphere at Arizona. The university refused to let him out of his commitment, and Withey refused to practice with the team.

 

Arizonafinally released Withey at the end of the first semester.

 

There is no guarantee that Memphis will release Henry from his commitment, but Cousins has yet to sign with a school and is free to follow Calipari if he so chooses.

 

A draft class that was shaping up to be one of the best in history, has suddenly fallen apart.

 

On top of these recruits, the current Memphis roster may be decimated before the recruiting class even has a chance to do their damage.

 

Tyreke Evans, Memphis’ stud guard, has been debating whether or not to leave for the NBA draft.

"Once I get some positive feedback to my liking, then if he has a chance to be a lottery pick from one to 10 then we can decide," Reggie Evans said. "We're going to sit down in a week or two with 'Reke. If he's not top 10 then the coach doesn't mean a thing."

His older brother and guardian, Reggie Evans, has made it his “job” to make sure that Tyreke is a lottery pick before advising him to declare.

"He hasn't declared," Reggie Evans continued. "Everyone assumed because Cal [Calipari] is leaving that he's going. He's going to finish the semester in May and we're going to decide this as a family before the deadline."

Memphis Athletic Director R.C. Johnson has reiterated the sentiments of Calipari by telling the current team that he recommends they stay at Memphis.

Whether or not they do is yet to be seen.

It is likely that the current members of the team will stay at Memphis until the semester is over in the spring, so as to maintain their eligibility.

Memphis’ recruits, and their current roster, aren’t the only kids to consider. Before his firing, Gillispie had recruited another top prospect to Kentucky in Daniel Orton.

 

Orton, who would compete for time with Cousins if he opted to follow Coach Cal to Kentucky, may begin to reconsider his options with the sudden coaching change.

 

Other recruits, looking as far ahead as the 2012 class, may begin to reconsider their options as well.

 

Jon Hood and G.J. Vilarino are currently signed in the 2009 class (Calipari would almost certainly honor their scholarship offers). K.C. Ross-Miller, Dakotah Euton and Dominique Ferguson committed to the 2010 class and Gillispie also got early verbal pledges from Vinny Zollo (2011) and Michael Avery (2012).

 

All of these recruits may reconsider their options now that coach Gillispie has moved on. These situations also will provide another problem for Calipari in that he will need to work with Kentucky on just how many scholarships he will have over the next couple years.

 

There is only one senior on the Wildcat roster, and standout forward Pat Patterson has already stated he’d like to return for his junior season.

 

Sophmore sensation Jodie Meeks, who if he declared for the NBA draft would open up another scholarship at Kentucky, has stated he wants to think about his options for a couple weeks before making a final decision.

 

The immediate uncertainty has lead Calipari to caution the Kentucky faithful.

 

"I'm a regular guy, folks," Calipari said. "I do not walk on water; I do not have a magic wand."

 

"I told Dr. Todd and Mitch, if you want something to happen in a year, do not hire me," Calipari also said at his press conference.

 

After going 22-14 last season, and missing out on the NCAA Tournament, Calipari will have a lot of work to do at UK. The aforementioned recruiting issues will also create some troubles, and there could a few more dark days ahead before the Kentucky program re-emerges.

 

Calipari knows it will be a tough climb, but he is also aware of what the responsibilities of the job are.

"Our goals will be to make the entire commonwealth proud of this team, proud of their program, proud of their team by our work on the court and our integrity off the court," Coach Cal said.

The future is looking bright at Kentucky, while Memphis will be struggling to find a coach that can continue on Calipari’s success.

 

This decision didn’t come lightly for Coach Cal, who has such strong ties to Memphis that he will be in attendance for their news conference in which they will discuss the future of the basketball program, but the lure of Kentucky was too much.

 

R.C. Johnson said that he and Calipari had an emotional meeting to discuss the coach’s decision.

 

Johnson said he asked Calipari how much money it would take to keep him at Memphis, and Calipari replied by saying, “You don't have to give me anymore. It's Kentucky."

 

As previously stated, Calipari struggled for over a day with his decision. This lead some people to think that he might stay at Memphis, much like Billy Donovan decided to stay at Florida.

"Why did he wait so long?" said former Calipari assistant Bruiser Flint, the head coach at Drexel. "He said he didn't have to take the job. He's 50 years old. He felt good at Memphis. It was a good place for him. But at the end of the day, it's Kentucky."

Calipari was in a good place at Memphis. He had Conference USA monopolized, he was winning 30+ games a season, the community adored him, he had the job as long as he wanted it, top recruits kept flocking to Memphis and he apparently could have gotten as much money as he desired.

 

Flint and Calipari sum it up best in regards to why he left…“It’s Kentucky”.

 

In a weak SEC, it shouldn’t take long for Coach Calto return the Wildcats to prominance. The name value, and tradition of success, that follows Calipari should lure several top recruits to Kentucky.

 

It will be very exciting to watch Coach Pitino and Coach Cal wage recruiting wars, and on-the-court wars, for many years to come.

 

A rivalry that blossomed when Pitino took over Louisvillein 2001 will certainly continue strong into the next decade; The Cardinals and Tigers battled with Cincy and Marquette for Conference USA supremacy before the three teams left for the Big East.

 

Memphis hasn’t lost a Conference USA game since 2006.

Despite the on-the-court rivalry, Pitino had high praise for Calipari on Tuesday.

"He's done a great job at UMass. He's done a great job at Memphis and he would do a great job at Kentucky if that's their pick," Pitino said.

Calipari turned out to be Kentucky’s pick.

 

Coach Calsent a text message to ESPN’s Andy Katz on Tuesday night that read, “I’m accepting the UK job! Go Big Blue, coach Cal.”

 

Calipari has Wildcat nation in a frenzy. Whether or not he returns the program to prominence is yet to be seen, but some experts are already predicting that he could have them in the Final Four as early as next year.

 

High expectations for a “regular guy”.

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