John Calipari starts over at Arkansas after 15 seasons at Kentucky

John Calipari starts over at Arkansas after 15 seasons at Kentucky

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

John Calipari is heading to Arkansas, the school announced Wednesday. The former Kentucky men’s basketball coach signed a five-year contract that begins at $7 million per season.

“John Calipari is one of the premier coaches in college basketball,” Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek said in a statement. “A national championship coach, a four-time national coach of the year and one of the nation’s top recruiters, Coach Cal has consistently demonstrated his ability to attract outstanding talent and build championship teams within the Southeastern Conference and position his programs among the best in the nation.”

Multiple outlets reported Sunday that Calipari was in talks with Arkansas about its coaching vacancy, and Calipari announced Tuesday that he would step away from the Wildcats’ program. In a video posted on X, the 65-year-old said he and his wife, Ellen, had spent a lot of time over the past few weeks reflecting on their 15 seasons in Lexington.

“This is a dream job. It was my dream job,” Calipari said in the video. “Anybody in our profession looks at the University of Kentucky in basketball and [says], ‘That is the bluest of blue.’ The last few weeks, we’ve come to realize that this program probably needs to hear another voice. … We’ve loved it here, but we think it’s time for us to step away, and step away completely from the program.”

Calipari did not mention Arkansas by name but indicated he was exploring his options to continue coaching.

“There have been opportunities that have been presented to us, and we’re discussing them as a family,” he said. “I love coaching. I love coaching young people.”

Calipari, whom Kentucky hired away from Memphis in 2009 to replace Billy Gillispie, led the Wildcats to four Final Fours in his first six seasons, including the school’s eighth national title (and first since 1998) in 2012.

While Calipari continued to attract elite talent to Lexington — the Wildcats have had 35 NBA first-round draft picks during his tenure, including No. 1 picks John Wall, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns — his teams haven’t enjoyed the same NCAA tournament success over the past decade. Kentucky, which hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2019, last month was upset in the tournament’s first round by a double-digit seed for the second time in three years.

Five days after the third-seeded Wildcats’ loss to No. 14 seed Oakland on March 21 led to questions about Calipari’s future with the program, Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart issued a statement that said Calipari would be back.

“As we normally do at the end of every season, Coach Calipari and I have had conversations about the direction of our men’s basketball program and I can confirm that he will return for his 16th season as our head coach,” Barnhart wrote.

After Calipari posted his goodbye video Tuesday, Barnhart thanked him for his time at Kentucky, during which he posted a 410-123 record.

“We’re appreciative of John Calipari leading our program for the last 15 years, adding to the legacy of championship success at Kentucky,” he wrote. “We’re grateful to John for his many contributions to the University, and our state, both on and off the court.”

Barnhart added that the school is “working diligently to hire a proven, highly dedicated coach who embraces the importance of this program to our fans and the state of Kentucky.”

Calipari, who spent parts of three seasons as the coach of the NBA’s New Jersey Nets in between stops at Massachusetts and Memphis before arriving in Lexington, agreed to a lifetime contract with Kentucky in 2019. Under the terms of the deal, he would have been owed $33 million had Kentucky dismissed him. There was no buyout for Calipari leaving for another job.

Arkansas went 16-17 and missed the NCAA tournament this season, after which Eric Musselman left for Southern California. After replacing Mike Anderson in 2019, Musselman led the Razorbacks to Elite Eight appearances in 2021 and 2022 and a Sweet 16 berth in 2023.

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