September 23, 2020

All Hail The King of Memphis

And on April Fool’s Day, Mitch Barnhart will introduce John Calipari as the basketball coach at Kentucky.

This is the show-stopping conclusion to a two-year running prank Barnhart has been playing on the populace, showing what a wacky jokester the publicly bland athletic director really is.

Seriously, see if this isn’t short-sheet-the-bed hilarious: In two years, Kentucky has gone from paying national championship-winning coach Tubby Smith $2.1 million a year to reportedly forking over $31.65 million plus incentives over eight years for a coach with less bling on his finger and more bones in his closet.

With a Billy Gillispie train wreck in between.

Mitch, you’re killing us! Enough with the tomfoolery!

But seriously, Mitch, given the embarrassing failure of the Gillispie era, let’s hope this one goes better. At least you got what you most needed: a big name who actually said yes, and quickly.

Of course, the quick part didn’t really play to your favor last time, did it? Hopefully, the exhaustive “fit” check on Calipari in the vast expanse of time between Friday afternoon (when Gillispie was fired) and Sunday morning (when word first got out of your impending meeting with Calipari) came back to your liking.

I know in your research you came across many people who love Cal — they love the success, the coaching acumen, the energy, the charisma, the community generosity, the battler’s spirit, the dreamer’s ambition. I’ve heard those things myself from many people I respect in college basketball.
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But I’ve heard a lot of other things, too. So before you two ride off to restore the glory of Big Blue Nation, a few questions for the AD:

Why didn’t you hire Calipari two years ago, or even entertain him as a serious candidate? Surely it wasn’t because Gillispie had a better coaching record — he didn’t. Surely it wasn’t because Gillispie is a better people person — few can match Calipari’s outgoing personality and zeal to sell his program on every platform.

So if Calipari was interested — and plenty of basketball insiders said he was at the time — what was the problem? Was there something else that made you leery?

Would the apparent change in your perception of Calipari as a UK coaching candidate have anything to do with the fact that your own six-figure job is very much on the line after the Gillispie fiasco? And maybe now it’s time to play ball with the boosters who see Cal’s excellent record in Memphis and want to win big again? No matter what baggage he brings to Lexington?

Look, we all know Calipari brings plenty of wins with him. Over the past four seasons, he racked up 137 of them — the most wins of any four-year stretch in college basketball history. That included four Sweet 16s, three Elite Eights and a national title game appearance. Compare that to Kentucky, which in the same four-year span won only 84 games, didn’t win an SEC title, didn’t make a Sweet 16 appearance and failed to make the NCAA tournament this season for the first time in 18 years.

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