Report: John Calipari to Kentucky Rumors Gaining Steam by the Hour

FYI — There have been plenty of updates on this story since I first posted it late last night. Scroll down to view the latest reports or click through to our latest post on Monday night, which discusses the ongoing contract negotiations between Calipari and Kentucky.

John Calipari-Kentucky rumors | Calipari bioNow that the hype of Billy Donovan-to-Kentucky rumor mill has died down a bit, the question becomes what big name coach or up-and-coming former Wildcat will eventually take the job?

Earlier this past week, immediately after Billy Gillispie was fired, John Calipari’s name was apparently not one that was on the list. But according to a report at tonight, Calipari is very much on the list — most likely right at the top.

From the report by Pat Forde and Dana O’Neil about the possibility of John Calipari-to-Kentucky becoming a reality:

Memphis coach John Calipari has taken a place on Kentucky’s radar in its search to replace Billy Gillispie, multiple sources told’s Dana O’Neil and Pat Forde.

On Friday, a source told O’Neil that Calipari ‘likely would not be interested’ in the job but on Sunday, multiple sources said Calipari is indeed interested. A source also said Kentucky was gathering information on Calipari over the weekend.

According to Memphis sports information director Lamar Chance, Kentucky officials have not contacted Memphis for permission to speak to Calipari.

Other names tossed out in the ESPN report are former Wildcat players including current Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford and current Arkansas coach John Pelphry. Non-Kentucky guys Sean Miller (Xavier) and Thad Matta (Ohio State) are also mentioned. Tom Izzo is discussed, but more in terms of why he is not a candidate than why he would be.

Two quick words on Izzo going to Kentucky: no way.

But let’s circle back and discuss John Calipari. My knee jerk reaction to John Calipari-to-Kentucky rumors is that he would not be a good choice for Kentucky, but a great choice. Say what you will about Calipari’s recruiting tactics or his academic standards or his less than sterling reputation with some of his peers, but the guy knows how to build a winning college basketball program (at least on the floor).

Oh, but don’t ask John Chaney for a recommendation:

John Calipari took over UMass in 1988 and they went 10-18 in his first season. By 1992 the Minutemen were an NCAA Tournament fixture, advancing to at least the second round every season from 1992-1996, with an Elite 8 and Final Four sprinkled in. He left UMass to coach the Nets in the NBA, and we all know how that turned out. But then he triumphantly returned to college coaching in 2000 at Memphis, and over the last four years, the Tigers have gone 61-1 in Conference USA and made two Elite 8s plus a trip to the title game last year.John Calipari-to-Kentucky rumors | Calipari Bio

Calipari’s 446-140 record proves that he can coach and that he can lead a big time basketball program. He is also calm and cool when dealing with the media (for the most part) and slimy and dishonest gritty and resourceful enough to do what is necessary to compete in the oft-sleazy world of college basketball recruiting.

Now, critics will say that Calipari has never coached at a place as rabid as Lexington, nor in a conference as competitive and balanced as the SEC. And they would be right on both counts. But name a candidate who has experience coaching in a place like Lexington? Other than Rick Pitino, there aren’t many — and he isn’t a candidate. And while I’m sure Calipari enjoys being the alpha dog in Conference USA, his Tigers would still be an annual competitor for the title in any conference except maybe the Big East.

So is Calipari-to-Kentucky really a possibility? I don’t know. John Martin wrote a nice piece over at the Bleacher Report earlier today that offers some pretty compelling reasons why John Calipari will not be going to Kentucky. Chief among the reasons:

  • Memphis will pay Calipari whatever it takes to keep him (I agree);
  • Calipari enjoys the relative lack of “pressure” in Memphis as opposed to what he’d face in Lexington (I agree, but think he could handle it);
  • Calipari would have to rebuild Kentucky and teach them the Dribble Drive Motion offense (I disagree — I think he’d relish the challenge, plus he could have Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson as a foundation if they do not go pro);
  • Calipari has a son enrolled in Memphis city schools and a daughter at the University of Memphis and would not want to disrupt the family (I agree).

Our buddy MoonDog also offers up some similarly solid reasoning for why Calipari will not be going to Kentucky, including the killer recruiting class he has coming into Memphis next year.

Update 3/30 7:05 AM: Jeff Goodman of is reporting that there is the possibility of a Calipari-Kentucky meeting this week. He also says that Calipari could potentially bring top recruits DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall with him to Lexington.

Update 3/30 10:00 AM: Andy Katz from is now reporting that John Calipari met with Kentucky officials at an “undisclosed location” on Sunday as is spending Monday meeting with Memphis officials discussing “what is expected to be a multiyear, multimillion offer to coach Kentucky.”

Update 3/30 11:30 AM: Thanks to Sparty and Friends for the tip, as it looks like John Calipari is not only interested in leaving Memphis for Kentucky, but at least one of his Memphis players reportedly says that Calipari “was talking like he was going to leave” during a team meeting. Sparty also reported that a Memphis radio station is saying the Kentucky offer to Calipari is $7 million per year.

All in all, it sounds like at least the possibility of Calipari-to-Kentucky is real. At the very least, Calipari will likely milk the inteJohn Calipari-Kentucky rumors | Calipari biorest into a new deal and more money with Memphis, or perhaps some kind of program/facilities upgrade if any area could use it. I don’t know Memphis basketball well enough to know if it could.

If I were Kentucky, I’d go after Calipari hard. Fans in Lexington care about one thing: winning. I don’t think John Calipari would be a good fit in a place like Bloomington, where academics, character, and program reputation are so highly valued (especially after the debacle with Coach Snake), but I think fans in Lexington are so desperate to be back on the national radar screen that the baggage and reputation that follows Calipari would be just fine.

(By the way, feel free to flame me for the last paragraph, as I am a biased IU fan, but that’s how I see it.)

One way or another, Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart knows that he has to make a big splash with this hire, and no one would make a bigger splash and restore optimism quicker than John Calipari. It would be a perfect marriage of a program with a gigantic ego and a coach with a gigantic ego, and with those two mutual interests intertwined, it just might be a perfect recipe for success on the court.

About Jerod Morris

I love words. I write for Copyblogger and founded MSF, The Assembly Call, & Primility. I practice yoga, eat well, & strive for balance. I love life. Namaste. Say hi on Twitter, Facebook, & G+.


  1. Being a UK fan and a student with this report coming out last night, I really think this is the best match for the program to have. A coach with a great resume that Calipari has and the way he’s a coach on and off the court is amazing.

    I do have to say that, I don’t agree with a fact that you’ve said in this report. You said that Memphis would have enough money to pay Calipari to stay at Memphis. False, Memphis is a program that is being known nationally for the past few years but doesn’t have the money like UK. UK is like the Yankees with the money situation. Memphis is like a smaller baseball club that can just barely pay there players and being able to keep them. I really don’t understand how Memphis could and would have enough money to outbid UK with the money situation.

    • Philip S says:


      FedEx Corporation Executives will make sure that Coach Cal doesn’t leave for monetary reasons….that’s how Memphis will keep Calipari…

      • @Philip S, agreed. There is no doubt that Kentucky can pay as much as anyone, but I think that Memphis would and will do everything in its power to keep Calipari. Memphis basketball is the sport of the city and I don’t think they will allow money to be the determining factor in Calipari leaving.

        If he for some reason goes, it will be because of the allure of the challenge of competing at one of the top 5 basketball programs in America. That’s it. But Calipari, like all great coaches, has a huge ego and relishes challenge. He could cement a legacy as one of the great college basketball coaches in history if he were to go to Lexington for 10-15 years, win a national title or two, and bring Kentucky back to year in, year out prominence. Could he? Who knows. But that is the type of thought that could appeal to him.

        • @JRod, I agree with you completely here. As a rabid Illini fan, I experienced a very similar situation with Bill Self heading to Kansas a few years ago. I was convinced that Self wouldn’t leave an Illinois team that was loaded with talent (indeed, those players got to the national championship game a year after he left). Plus, he could arguably have been the big dog and comfortable forever in Champaign while the Illinois program was willing to pay anything that he wanted to keep him there. We all know what happened – Self ultimately couldn’t resist the allure of going to Kansas.

          Right now, Memphis fans are throwing out the same arguments for Calipari staying as Illini fans did for Self back in 2003 (and Illinois had the significant added benefit of being in the revenue-rich Big Ten as opposed to Memphis’ position in C-USA). There might be that 1% chance that Cal’s heartstrings will be pulled to keep him in Memphis, but the other 99% points to him heading to Lexington ASAP. This isn’t a decision that’s going to be made solely because of money (although it’s definitely a big factor) – it’s because Kentucky is one of the handful of elite programs in the nation (the others being UNC, Kansas, Duke, UCLA, and maybe Indiana) where you can truly cement yourself as a legend nationally. Few places even within the 6 power conferences are able to compete with that, much less a place like Memphis which is outside of college basketball’s power structure.

  2. Frank, excellent point. And as you can see from the updates to the story just today, Cal to Kentucky is looking more and more like a reality.


    As an IU fan, I am not happy about this at all.

  3. dophinbuc says:

    Real brief about this.Memphis is a lot closer to tasting sweet success than Kentucky right now.I know Memphis fans are on pins and needles,but it’s gonna take almost a “Fort Knox” offer to keep him.I’d like to see him stay,but if he leaves I still wish him the best of luck.(Been a Tiger fan since Keith Lee was a freshman)

    • @dophinbuc, that is certainly a nice sentiment. I think it would be hard for Memphis fans to be all that upset with Calipari for leaving, considering he’d be more than doubling his salary, going to one of the top 5 historical programs ever, and has turned Memphis into a pretty good job itself. It always stinks for fans of the team who lose their coach, but nice to see someone who is probably about to be jilted still staying positive about Coach Cal.

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