Change Will Hopefully be Good for Both John Calipari and Kentucky


John Calipari and Jayden Quaintance.

I got on a Southwest flight Sunday afternoon in Louisville to meet my daughter and grandchildren for a national parks trip in Utah thinking Monday’s biggest stories would be the NCAA Tournament title game, solar eclipse and end of the Caitlin Clark era.

Was I ever wrong?

By the time my plane landed and I turned my phone back on it was blowing up with John Calipari to Arkansas rumors. By the time I got out of the airport, got a rental car and got to my hotel, my phone was beyond blowing up with the Calipari news.

My reaction — good for him and good for Kentucky.

Calipari has spent 15 years at Kentucky. He won a national title in 2012. He also went to the national title game in 2014 and got to the Final Four in 2011 and 2015 — the year UK was 38-0 before losing to Wisconsin.

Calipari will finish his tenure at Kentucky with a record of 410-123. He is the second-winningest coach in program history behind only Adolph Rupp.

His problem is that he did so much so soon that he raised the expectation level even higher at Kentucky and has not been able to meet that standard. Kentucky has not been to the Final Four in the last nine years. Since going to the Elite Eight in 2019, UK has just one NCAA Tournament win.

In 2020, the NCAA tourney was cancelled by COVID. In 2021, UK went 9-6 — its worst win percentage since 1926-27 —and did not make the NCAA. In 2022, No. 2 seed UK lost to 15 seed Saint Peter’s in the first round. In 2023, UK lost to 6 seed Kansas State in the second round. This year UK was a No. 3 seed and lost to No. 14 Oakland in the first round.

Calipari is a Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer with 855 career victories and six Final Fours with three different programs. Those are incredible numbers.

However, he needs a fresh start and so do Kentucky fans. Sure, many fans were critical of Calipari the last few years but when you make $9 million per year and proclaim you have teams “built for March” and then don’t deliver, fans will be upset. Calipari also often talked down to fans.

But Calipari was also a great fundraiser when natural disasters impacted Kentucky or other places. Calipari and his players helped raise needed money for many causes.

Last season UK was also one of the most exciting teams in the nation if not the most exciting on offense. The problem was Kentucky played porous defense.

It’s no secret Calipari and athletics director Mitch Barnhart are not close buddies. The BBN Tonight interview with the two of them was awkward and far from sincere.

But Calipari leaving for Arkansas was a better exit for UK than firing him and owing him $33 million.

Now Calipari will be even more rejuvenated to show he can make a Final Four again. He will basically have unlimited NIL money from big-time donors at Arkansas and he will take recruits
Jayden Quintance, Karter Knox, Billy Richmond, Boogie Fland and Somto Cyril  with him to Arkansas. My guess is that Travis Perry of Lyon County will stay committed to Kentucky.

Early reports are that Calipari will make between $7.5 and $8 million annually on his new five-year contract. Maybe that’s not quite as much as he was making at UK but it is more than enough.

Kentucky will be starting over — but that would have been the case no matter when Calipari left. The good news is that with the right coach, a roster can be restocked a lot quicker today thanks to the transfer portal.

However, Barnhart better get this hire right — no Billy Gillispie — and that may not be as easy as some want it to be. Still, UK is 2-8 in its last 10 postseason games counting SEC Tournament play and that mark is why the love affair with Calipari soured at UK.

Seth Davis of CBS Sports and Paul Finebaum of ESPN are both on the Nate Oats to Kentucky bandwagon. Oats just took Alabama to the Final Four despite being walloped at UK in late February. He’s produced wins but being in the 24-hour a day spotlight at UK could be more than he would want no matter how much Barnhart offers.

“Calipari going to Arkansas is one of those seismic shifts that is good for all parties. He needs a fresh start and so does Kentucky. Kentucky needs to back up the Brinks truck for Nate Oats. This is a no brainer. He has an 8 figure buyout but he’s worth it and Kentucky has the money,” Davis posted on social media.

“Alabama is not Kentucky, and Kentucky is the gold standard. Alabama football and Kentucky basketball are essentially the same thing,” Finebaum said on ESPN.

Change is never easy but change always eventually happens. Hopefully this change is good for both Calipari and UK because it seemed obvious both needed this change.

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