Sports 56 WHBlog Q

March 31, 2009

Calipari to Kentucky: The Fallout

Filed under: Uncategorized — Peter Edmiston @ 11:15 pm

I am writing this at the end of an incredibly hectic day – it was crazy enough for those of us following from the outside; I can only imagine what it must have been like at the center of the storm.  At the end of the day, though (literally), John Calipari decided to say goodbye to Memphis and hello to Lexington.  He is the new head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats.

He had said all along that should a job like Kentucky come along, it would be very difficult to pass up.  Kentucky overlooked him two years ago (AD Mitch Barnhart has reportedly told Cal tonight “I listened to the wrong people.”), but they weren’t going to overlook him again.  He fits every characteristic Kentucky would want in a basketball coach: he’s an incredible recruiter, he loves the spotlight, is a great PR guy for a program, and he wins..a lot.  Kentucky would have been foolish to look anywhere else.

I hope Memphis fans will understand – I would hate to see a wonderful relationship end with bitterness and acrimony all around.  What John Calipari did for the Memphis program cannot be overstated.  Despite losing so many players and recruits, the Memphis program itself is in a far better position now than it was nine years ago.  Funding has increased, attendance is way up, facilities are improved, FedExForum is an amazing home arena…all of these things have happened in the past nine years.  They won’t disappear overnight.  Memphis succeeded before Cal, and they will succeed after Cal.  It will take time.  But it will happen.

It is hard to begrudge John Calipari his shot at Kentucky.  There are only a handful of programs in college sports that can rival Kentucky’s tradition and success.  There’s not a brighter spotlight in the sport.  It was getting to the point in Cal’s career where if he was going to make a move, now was the time.  In the copious hours of programming on radio and TV about this situation, I have already heard fans expressing anger and betrayal at Calipari.  I hope that’s not indicative of the attitude generally.  He had an incredibly difficult decision, and it showed.  Clearly he was torn beyond belief about what he should do.  That he chose Kentucky does not diminish what he did for Memphis.  I hope fans will bear that in mind.

Adding John Calipari to Kentucky adds an incalculable amount of fuel to the UK/Louisville rivalry, and enlivens the already feisty UK/UT matchup.  It raises the SEC’s profile, something badly needed after such a terrible conference season.  It will give John Calipari the chance to prove he can do it in a major conference, something he still has to prove.  It makes sense.  It makes too much sense not to happen.

As for Memphis, word is their first choice, Mike Anderson, has negotiated an improved deal at Missouri and will stay there.  Who is the next choice?  Tim Floyd?  Sean Miller?  Tony Barbee?  We may find some answers tomorrow when R.C. Johnson meets the media, though I doubt it.  This is a critical decision, because the next coach will have a huge rebuilding job on his hands; he will need time and patience to see it through.

We’ll have more coverage all day on Sports 56 WHBQ.

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