Coach Cal’s high price tag carries high expectationsBy CASEY BOLSEGA
Shortly after Billy Gillispie’s departure, rumors began to spread as to who the next University of Kentucky head basketball coach would be. Throughout the Bluegrass, hopes were inflated that it would be a high profile coach that would lead the Cats back to the promised land. The same chaos ensued during the days following Orlando “Tubby” Smith’s firing, but this time around UK was going after more than just a coach. They were going after someone huge.
Big Blue Nation was begging for someone who had proven themselves on the highest of levels. They also needed someone who would embrace the position of being the head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky. The same names were being thrown around as possible candidates; Billy Donovan of Florida, John Calipari of Memphis, and even the possibility of trying to lure Rick Pitino away from crossstate rival Louisville. Also Travis Ford, the current Oklahoma State coach and former UK basketball player was being discussed as a possible replacement to Gillispie. This list was shortly narrowed to one, as both Donovan and Pitino publicly addressed that they were satisfied with their current coaching positions, and it did not seem like Ford was what UK was looking for.
On March 29, the University of Kentucky was granted permission by the Universityof Memphis to contact Coach John Calipari in regards to becoming the next UK head men’s basketball coach. The next day rumors flew about Coach Calipari’s level of interest in the UK job, and the signs kept pointing Calipari right towards Lexington. He publicly stated that he needed a night to “sleep” on one of the “biggest decisions” of his life. Tuesday morning came, and once again, the speculation continued about whether Calipari was staying in Memphis or heading to Lexington. Finally on the evening of March 31, John Calipari accepted the offer to become the next head men’s basketball coach at the University of Kentucky. This marked a huge occasion in the life of UK basketball. ESPN.com reported that their Senior basketball analyst Andy Katz received a text message on Tuesday evening from Calipari that read “I am accepting the UK job! Go Big Blue, coach Cal.”
Later that evening Calipari boarded a private jet and headed to Lexington where the Big Blue Nation was anxiously awaiting the arrival of their new coach. This program got everything that they were asking for, but the price tag was more then what they had bargained for. The details of the contract make Calipari the highest paid coach in college basketball. He is expected to make $31.6 million dollars over an eightyear span, with incentive and bonuses built in. In 2008, Calipari was named Naismith Coach of the Year after leading Memphis to the National Championship Game. This, along with Calipari’s outstanding record at Memphis, allowed for him to become the high profile coach that UK was looking for. Calipari addressed UK fans for the first time at a press conference the morning of April 1, and he said everything that they wanted to hear. He said he was “excited” for the opportunity to coach at a place that “only hangs National Championship banners.” He understands the pressure put on the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats. “We’re the biggest game on everybody’s schedule,” said Calipari, and as a result of his other college coaching jobs he “knows what that feels like.” Calipari concluded by calling this a “dream” opportunity for him and his family.
It is obvious that John Calipari possesses the charisma to be the next head basketball coach at UK, but it seems that a high profile coach, carrying a high price tag, demands instant success. The morning after Calipari accepted the deal from UK, shirts were already printed that read: “Envy Our Past. Fear Our Future. The John Calipari Era is HERE!” He has been well-embraced indeed. It is obvious that there are many pros to John Calipari taking over as the UK basketball coach; however the biggest question is whether he is worth the money. He isn’t coming here for free. There is also the possibility of him not being successful in his first two years. Is he to be treated the same way Gillespie was? The fans have already embraced their new coach, but they must be able to support Calipari through his ups and downs.
The talk of the Wildcats possibly receiving some top recruits and being a National Championship contender next year is already brewing in Lexington. Only in Lexington do these talks begin before the season is even concluded. The fans need to understand that it might be a year or two before Calipari gets the Cats turned around and headed on the right track. They need to give this coach the time he needs to let his recruits come in, get used to the system and build a team up to its full potential. Kentucky Wildcat basketball is not going anywhere, and neither is their new ball coach. Calipari has the potential to take Kentucky basketball back to the promised land, and could quite possibly finish his coaching career as a Wildcat.
That is why a sigh of relief from the Big Blue Nation is heard from coast to coast. As for now we can just wait and speculate on what this new hire will actually bring to the program. Will it bring success? Or will we have another short tenure from an ill-tempered coach on our hands? Has the college finally done it and gone over the limit money-wise? Only time will tell now as to what will happen in the next few months, the first few months of the John Calipari era.
UK coaching past
Eddie Sutton had a huge job
coming into the 1985 season when
he succeeded Joe B. Hall as the
head coach. Although successful,
he ended his tenure in disappointment
and disgust as his 1988-89
team finished 13-19, the worst
finish since 1927.
Sutton also got the program
in trouble with the NCAA , which
put it on probation due to recruting
violations. He ended with an
Rick Pitino took over the program
during a trivial time becasue
of Sutton. He quickly restored
the luster and lore of the program
and led the charge to the 1996
He made another run the next
season but lost to Arizona in the
NCAA finals. He left UK in 1997
for a shot at the NBA. Pitino finished
with a 219-50 record.
Orlando “Tubby” Smith led the
Cats for 10 years and had a steady
run at it. He won the 1997 NCAA
championship, but it wasn’t with
his own team.
However he won five SEC tournament
titles, achieved six Sweet
Sixteen finishes and four Elite
Eight finishes. Smith left UK for
Minnesota in 2007 and had a final
record of 263-83.
Billy Gillespie came to UK
in 2007 following Tubby Smith’s
departure. Gillespie finished 18-13
in his first season, yet made the
NCAA tournament for the 17th
In his second season, the head
coach saw his team drop five of the
final six games to finish at 19-12.
Shortly after, the Cats found out
they were going to miss the NCAA
tournament for the first time in 18
years. Shortly after, Gillespie was
fired. He finished at 40-27.