Memphis coach John Calipari yells at officials during the first half of a men's NCAA college basketball tournament regional semifinal against Missouri in Glendale, Ariz., Thursday, March 26, 2009. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - John Calipari cautioned the Kentucky
faithful that he was not the "grand poobah" or "emperor" - even
if his eight-year, $31.65 million contract as the Wildcats' new
coach pays him like one.
Before his introductory news conference Wednesday, Kentucky's
athletics board approved the contract that will make Calipari the
highest paid coach in the nation. Athletic director Mitch Barnhart
defended the salary, saying that the university paid a premium
price to lure Calipari away Memphis because he "can flat out
"I'm a regular guy, folks," Calipari said. "I do not walk on
water; I do not have a magic wand."
He might need to find one. Kentucky fired Billy Gillispie on
Friday after two seasons and he went 40-27, including losing 14
games this season and failing to lead the Wildcats into the NCAA
"The challenge of being here is (not) competing for national
titles, but winning them," Calipari said. "But that's what you
buy into when you come here."
And Kentucky has demonstrated its willing to pay whatever it
takes to back to that level.
"We're the pre-eminent basketball program in the country and if
we want a premier coach then that may be what it takes to get it
done," Barnhart said.
Calipari's decision to take the job didn't come easy. He spent
more than a day mulling Kentucky's lucrative offer while reporters
camped outside his home.
He told his Memphis players he was leaving during a meeting on
Tuesday evening before hopping a plane to Lexington. The university
received a faxed copy of the 20-page contract around 9 p.m. just
before Calipari arrived in his new home.
"This decision was extremely hard," Calipari said. "It wasn't
coming here, this was easy. It was leaving Memphis. The support
that my family and I received over the years there ... to walk away
from that was very difficult."
Calipari had such strong ties to Memphis that after his UK
introduction, he was expected to fly back there for an afternoon
news conference outside his home. Memphis officials planned a
separate news conference to discuss the future of the program.
It's a future Calipari said should include the highly touted
recruits who have already committed to play for the Tigers next
"What I would hope is all the players that signed at Memphis
will go to Memphis," Calipari said. "That's my hope."
Besides, he thinks he should have his pick of the nation's top
players at Kentucky. His first recruiting pitch may be to Kentucky
stars Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks. Both were weighing whether
to head to the NBA. Having one of the nation's most successful
coaches could help them change their mind.
Calipari, 50, knows what he is getting into at Kentucky. He said
before he made his decision, he reached out to several former
"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."
The numbers are dizzying, even if he said it wasn't about the
Calipari will be paid $3.7 million next season with a small
raise to $3.8 million 2010-2014. He'll receive $3,250,000 a year
from 2015-2017. He's also due retention bonuses averaging $1
million a year between 2014-16.
The contract is guaranteed, though the athletic department will
pay just $400,000 a season. The rest of Calipari's salary will come
from multi-media rights contract, said Barnhart.
"If done correctly, the investment in a coach will pay for
itself and yield returns for the overall program in general,"
Calipari is 445-140 in 17 seasons, leading both Memphis and
Massachusetts to the Final Four. He said he has long dreamed of
coaching college basketball's winningest program.
"This was a dream I've had since we brought our team down
here," Calipari said. "I believe it was 1992, we 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
That day has come and he has Calipari has work to do. The
Wildcats have not been in the Final Four the past 11 seasons. And
Calipari cautioned Kentucky's fan base not to expect too much too
soon, as he had informed Barnhart and university president Lee
"I told Dr. Todd and Mitch, if you want something to happen in
a year, do not hire me," Calipari said. "That's now how I do
Barnhart said after firing Gillispie that he wanted to hire a
coach that embraced what the Kentucky job meant, on and off the
court. Calipari sounded like he understood what they meant.
"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," he said.
Calipari's deal eclipses the $3.5 million average salary of
Florida's Billy Donovan and dwarfs those of Calipari's predecessors
Pitino, Smith and Gillispie.
Pitino, now the coach at rival Louisville, never made more than
$2 million a season during his remarkably successful eight-year run
at Kentucky. 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 more than doubles the $1.6 million salary of Kentucky
football coach Rich Brooks, a rarity in a conference where football
Calipari has a reputation as one of the nation's best
recruiters, and it's possible some of his latest recruits will
follow him to Lexington. Still, the cupboard is hardly bare at
At Kentucky he has the high-profile and rich history he lacked
at Memphis and UMass. One look around the seven national
championship banners around the school's glistening practice
facility offered proof.
"They don't put banners up here for anything else except
national champions," he said. "That's why you want to coach here.
We want to compete every year and hopefully add to this wall."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)