John Calipari's Tigers are vying with the Vols and 'Dores for state superiority
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - John Calipari has accepted an offer to
leave Memphis to coach the tradition-rich Kentucky basketball
program, according to reports.
The coach sent a text message to ESPN.com's Andy Katz on Tuesday
evening saying, "I am accepting the UK job! Go Big Blue, coach
Calipari spent the day considering the Wildcats' lucrative offer
and calling former Kentucky coaches, including Joe B. Hall.
Hall said the informal chat centered on what it takes to survive
one of college basketball's most prestigious, most scrutinized and
most lucrative jobs. Kentucky fired Billy Gillispie last Friday
after two disappointing seasons.
The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tenn., first reported the
The deal Calipari is expected to sign could reach eight years
and pay more than $4 million per season, an unidentified source
Tigers walk-on Preston Laird said Calipari met with the team
Tuesday afternoon, first as a group and then with individual
players, including Laird. The freshman guard described the meeting
as very quiet, "Nobody really said anything."
"He started off by telling us it was the hardest day of his
life," Laird said.
But the guard said Calipari wasn't very specific.
"He can't say that he's taking it, but he said he was probably
going to sign the contract," Laird told a reporter.
Kentucky spokesman DeWayne Peevy would not confirm a deal had
"I'm waiting on my boss to tell me it's a done deal," he said.
University of Memphis spokesman Bob Winn confirmed athletic
director R.C. Johnson had spoken with Calipari. Asked if Calipari
had told Johnson he was taking the Kentucky job, Winn declined to
"I can confirm that he has told R.C. (Johnson) that he is
headed to Lexington, Ky., this evening," Winn told The Associated
Memphis has scheduled a news conference for noon Wednesday where
Johnson will discuss the future of the Memphis basketball program.
Hoping to make a big splash after Gillispie's tenure, Kentucky
is expected to go deep into its pockets to land one of the nation's
most high-profile coaches.
The deal likely would make Calipari the highest-paid coach in
the country, eclipsing the $3.5 million average salary of Florida's
Billy Donovan and dwarf those of Calipari's predecessors Rick
Pitino, Tubby Smith and Gillispie.
Pitino never made more than $2 million a season during his
remarkably successful eight-year run at the school. Smith's
compensation neared $2.1 million at the end of his decade with the
program and Gillispie received a base salary of $2.3 million with
another $750,000 available in incentives.
The salary nearly triples the $1.6 million salary of Kentucky
football coach Rich Brooks, a rarity in a conference where football
Calipari already was one of the highest-paid coaches in the
country, signing an extension with Memphis last year that paid him
$2.35 million annually.
Memphis had promised to match whatever Kentucky offers, but the
Wildcats have one thing Memphis doesn't: the opportunity to coach
in a top-flight conference at the home of college basketball's
It'll be seen as money well spent if Calipari can duplicate the
success that's followed him throughout his collegiate coaching
He put together turnarounds at Massachusetts and Memphis,
winning over 440 games in 17 seasons and leading both schools to a
Putting the pieces together at Kentucky might not take long,
though the program has plenty of question marks.
The Wildcats went 22-14 this year, missing the NCAA tournament
for the first time since 1991 despite having two of the SEC's best
players in guard Jodie Meeks and forward Patrick Patterson.
Patterson said after the season he'd likely return for his
junior year, while Meeks - named a second-team All-American on
Monday - was going to take his time on a decision.
Hiring Calipari might be all the incentive they need to return.
He won over fans and made over the program at Memphis behind an
electrifying style of play that has churned out a handful of NBA
players, including Derrick Rose, Shawnae Williams, DaJuan Wagner
and Joey Dorsey.
Calipari's ability to lure some of the nation's best high school
players - regardless of how long they plan on sticking around - has
made him an attractive candidate for years.
He's been able to fight off temptation for nearly a decade, but
the chance to makeover one of college basketball's elite programs
proved to be too much.
Mitch Barnhart stressed the need to find a coach who can handle
everything that comes along with coaching the Wildcats. Calipari
has never met a camera he didn't like and certainly doesn't lack
confidence: two things Gillispie struggled with during his tenure.
Calipari became the focus after Florida coach Billy Donovan took
his name out of the running.
Kentucky received permission to speak to Calipari on Monday,
less than 72 hours after Gillispie was fired. Sensing the need to
make a home-run hire after the Gillispie debacle, Calipari
certainly has the resume and the charm to sate a rabid fan base.
But he also has some baggage. He led Massachusetts to the Final
Four in 1996 only to have the school vacate the honor when star
Marcus Camby admitted to receiving gifts from a sports agent.
Though Calipari has never been found of wrongdoing by the NCAA,
he's been unable to shed the Camby mess from his reputation and his
hire could raise some eyebrows from fans still sensitive over the
recruiting violations during the Eddie Sutton era 20 years ago that
nearly wrecked the program.
Rick Pitino swooped in to save Kentucky after Sutton left,
taking the Wildcats to three Final Fours and a national title in
eight years on the sideline.
Neither Gillispie or Tubby Smith have been able to duplicate
that success, but neither had the charisma or swagger of Calipari,
who now finds himself working an hour east of Pitino.
The two have a long history dating back to when Pitino
recommended Calipari for the head coaching job at UMass in 1988.
Pitino's Kentucky team beat Calipari's UMass squad in the '96 Final
Four and the two have had a testy - at least on the floor -
relationship ever since.
The rivalry really began when Pitino took over at Louisville in
2001 as the Cardinals and the Tigers fought with Cincinnati and
Marquette for C-USA supremacy. Those three programs left for the
Big East in 2005, and Memphis has dominated the conference ever
Memphis hasn't lost a C-USA game since 2006, and the Tigers are
the only program in the country to receive either a No. 1 or No. 2
seed in the NCAA tournament in each of the last four years.
Despite their perceived differences, Pitino has little doubt
Calipari will be a great fit at Kentucky.
"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 Tuesday.
--- AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn., and
Associated Press Writers Woody Baird and Beth Rucker in Memphis
contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)