John Calipari is officially off to the bluegrass state where he will take over as head coach of Kentucky’s basketball team. Calipari accepted an 8 year, $31.65 million offer, making him the highest paid coach in college basketball. Was it the right move for him though? For Kentucky? And what about Memphis?
Calipari was at Memphis for 9 years and had a remarkably successful run there. His Memphis team lost in the National Championship last year and have won a remarkable 137 games over the past four seasons. Memphis has dominated their conference like John Calipari is officially off to the bluegrass state where he will take over as head coach of Kentucky’s basketball team. Calipari accepted an 8 year, $31.65 million offer, making him the highest paid coach in college basketball. Was it the right move for him though? For Kentucky? And what about Memphis.
That all sounds well and good, but Calipari is leaving behind the chance to create a new Kentucky. Memphis has quickly become a perennial championship contender, a team to be feared. With10 more years of this success, Memphis will have created a basketball program with the prestige necessary to gain status as one of the historic programs in the country. Of course, 20 years of success doesn’t equal the lifetimes of success for teams like Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, or Indiana, but its a start. Maybe 10 more years of success after that and a few national championships under his belt, Calipari would be considered the founder of one of the greatest college basketball programs of all-time. Maybe his name would be mentioned with the likes of Bobby Knight and John Wooden. He would leave behind a legacy at Memphis that no one could top.
That’s not to mention that Calipari is leaving a community that has done everything for him. Memphis is his home. How many departing coaches help the team their leaving hire their new coach? Calipari loves Memphis and Memphis loves Calipari. The alums love him. The fans love him. His players love him. Unfortunately, Kentucky and the money there were too much. Could Memphis have paid Calipari$3 a year and convinced him to stay? Maybe. Maybe they even offered him that type of money. Some things money can’t buy and going to a program with the history of Kentucky is one of those things
So, it is not surprise that Calipari agonized over this decision: the money and the prestige of Kentucky versus the love and loyalty of Memphis. In the end, Kentucky won. They get the great recruiter who has 2 of the top 5 players in next years class going to Memphis (for now) and maybe the 6th best player as well. If those players choose to follow Calipari to Kentucky, then Memphis will face another devastating blow. Some players on Memphis’s current team have expressed a desire to transfer to Kentucky as well. The news just keeps getting worse for the team a year removed from playing in the national championship.
With his great recruiting skills, Calipari will get Kentucky back contending for Final Fours very soon. For Memphis though, things may never get better. Players may transfer. Signed commitments may opt out with the coaching change. The team will fall apart as talent no longer wishes to go to Memphis and instead looks at Kentucky and other major schools where a proven coach exists. Memphis will lose its current crop of players and after that will fall back into a normal mid-major that has a mediocre roster, maybe can pull a first round upset in the tourney, but isn’t anything dangerous. For Kentucky, their entire program turns around. For Memphis, their entire program takes a step back. For Calipari, he is off to the Mecca of college basketball, leaving behind his home. Will he regret his decision later? Only time will tell.