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.
Now 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 ESPN.com tonight, Calipari is very much on the list — most likely right at the top.
From the ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com’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.
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 FoxSports.com 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 ESPN.com 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 interest 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.