As UK fans know very well, the UK program and brand has been damaged in recent years, including the last few years of coach Tubby Smith’s tenure and both years under coach Gillispie. The past 4 years reveal a UK program that had a dismal overall record of 84-52….4 straight seasons with 12 plus loses…..an incredible 19 loses at Rupp Arena including a number of embarrassing losses at Rupp Arena to the likes of Gardner-Webb, San Diego and VMI. Add to that miserable record…..UK was unranked for the last 4 seasons, except for a very brief top 25 ranking. Last season, the wheels came off with UK losing 10 of their last 16 regular season games and missing the NCAA. It had become painfully obvious that coach Gillispie wasn’t getting the job done on the court or in fulfilling his off court UK responsibilities. Thankfully, the UK AD, Mitch Barnhart and President Todd understood that a coaching change had to be made immediately to restore the UK program and brand before further damage occurred.
For non UK fans outside of the state of Kentucky it is simply not possible to understand the incredible love, enthusiasm and support for UK basketball. In virtually every year, UK leads the nation in attendance….even when the program has been down as it has in recent years. In past years, UK’s basketball coach has often been the most popular and well known person in the state….as a result, the coach at UK carries a huge responsibility, both within the state and nationally in promoting Kentucky basketball. Recently, UK built a state of art practice facility and now is moving forward on a new arena in the coming years…..underscoring the huge overall commitment to UK basketball. Although UK fans are very proud of the UK football program achievements in recent year, it is the basketball program that is the golden nugget of the UK sports programs.
Mitch Barnhart and President Todd clearly understood that UK needed a coach who had not only proven himself over his career as a winner, but a coach who would bring star power to match the star power of the UK basketball program. With all this in mind, Mitch Barnhart and President Todd selected and hired John Calipari to restore the UK program to it’s rightful place among the nation’s elite teams.
A review of John Calipari’s career is more than impressive and reveals coach Calipari to be of the most elite and successful coaches in America.
John Calipari played his basketball at UNC-Wilmington for 2 years and then Clarion St., where not surprisingly, Calipari was the PG.
He started his coaching career as an Asst. at Kansas under Ted Owens and Larry Brown from 1982-1985 and then was an asst. at Pittsburgh from 1985-1988 under Paul Evans.
Coach Calipari took his first head coaching job at U Mass where in 8 seasons he achieved a record of 189-70 and included 5 trips to the NCAA in which U Mass achieved a Sweet 16, Elite 8 and a Final Four. U Mass finished 1st in the A-10 conference in Calipari’s final 5 years at U Mass.
After a very successful 8 years at U Mass, coach Calipari decided to jump to the NBA as coach of the New Jersey Nets, but like Rick Pitino and a number of other college coaches who tried the NBA, Calipari’s college success did not carry over to the NBA as he had hoped. So, in 2000, John Calipari returned to the college game as coach of the Memphis Tigers.
At Memphis, coach Calipari soon worked his coaching magic and quickly put the Tigers back on the national stage. In 9 years at Memphis, Calipari achieved a record of 252-69 with 6 NCAA appearances including a Sweet 16, 2 Elite 8’s and a Final Four where Memphis lost in OT to Kansas in the national championship game. In Calipari’s last 4 years at Memphis, the Tigers amassed an incredible record of 137-14, making the Tigers the winningest NCAA program in a 4 year period and included setting an NCAA record of 38 wins in a single season.
Coach Calipari’s 76.1% winning percentage ranks 3rd among active coaches with at least 10 years of coaching….trailing only Roy Williams and Mark Few, but ahead of Coach K and Rick Pitino. In fact, coach Calipari currently ranks 13th in winning % among all coaches, active and non active. Amazingly, Calipari has averaged 25.9 wins per year in achieving his tremendous career record of 441-139!
John Calipari has been A-10 and C-USA coach of the year numerous times and was Naismith National Coach of the Year in 1996 and 2008. He has also collected a host of other coaching awards.
Of course, past achievements are great, but UK fans are interested in future results…..and in the 3 short months time since Calipari became head coach…..Cat fans have already seen fantastic recruiting results…..namely, the number one recruiting class in America. After 4 years of being virtually a forgotten program, UK fans now see UK ranked in the top 5 or top 10 in numerous preseason polls. Coach Calipari has not only recruited a great class, but he has been everywhere, both nationally such as ESPN and locally throughout the state, selling Kentucky basketball. UK fans immediately see a coach comfortable in his own skin and supremely confident in his own abilities….a coach who has embraced UK basketball with great love and enthusiasm. Calipari has made no secret that he always wanted to coach Kentucky and now at age 50, he gets his chance to rebuild the UK program and brand….it’s a challenge that Calipari accepts fully and knows that achieving success at Kentucky will cement his place in college basketball history as one of the great coaches of all time.
A word regarding the totally unfair treatment of coach Calipari by so called sports analysts. As everyone knows, at U Mass, Marcus Camby accepted money and gifts from a couple of sports agents. An NCAA investigation established that coach Calpari had no knowledge of Camby’s actions. Recently, at Memphis, the NCAA is investigating Derrick Rose’s SAT test at his high school in Chicago and whether someone took the test for him. Again, the NCAA has found zero evidence of coach Calipari or anyone from Memphis having knowledge of Rose’s actions. Despite Calipari never being accused of an NCAA violation in all 17 years of his coaching career, there are still a number of classless sports journalists who try and smear him with false charges. As Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas, among others, have said…..enough is enough and coach Calipari deserves far better from the sports media.
UK fans are proud of their new coach….he has great charisma…..he lights up any room he enters….he handles interviews with great skill and shows respect to everyone. Calipari is rightfully proud of his wonderful family….his wife, two daughters and son…..he is a family man through and through. Coach Calipari has made no secret of he and his families intention to give back to the Lexington community as they did in Memphis..…..they will be involved in a number of charities and worthwhile projects in Lexington and likely throughout the state of Kentucky.
Also, importantly, it should be added that at U Mass, the graduation rate under Calipari was nearly 80% and at Memphis, 15 of the last 18 seniors that came through the Tiger program earned their degrees. Obviously, John Calipari is very interested in making certain that his players go to class and get their college degrees.
As one who has followed UK basketball for many years, I must say that I am greatly excited and proud about having John Calipari as UK’s new coach. I personally feel that the selection of coach Calipari was the perfect choice for returning the Wildcats back to their elite status. Cat fans are in for a treat, a new dynamic coach….a new exciting Dribble Drive Motion Offense and the best UK talent to step on the floor at Rupp arena in over 10 years and maybe longer. Believe me, Rupp Arena will be rocking next season!
Yes, the Kentucky basketball program has always had great star power….although in the past several years that star didn’t shine nearly as bright as it has in the past…..but now with coach Calipari, UK has a coach who brings his own personal star power…..and together…..I look for the UK program and brand to return to our glory years….that’s what happens when two great stars merge and become one!
Sunday, June 28, 2009