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Pressure Growing On Kentucky’s John Calipari

And historically, he has not done well with pressure.

Kentucky v Alabama
TUSCALOOSA, AL - JANUARY 7: head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats instructs his team during the fist half against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Coleman Coliseum on January 7, 2023 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Photo by Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images

The most interesting thing in college basketball right now, in our opinion, is Kentucky turning on John Calipari. And by Kentucky we mean fans and local media.

You could toss in national media too for that matter.

The revolt started with the fans, as such things usually do. But now you're seeing something different: John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader is raising the question: should Calipari go?

That takes this to a different level.

He quotes Gary Parrish of CBS Sports as saying a friend of Calipari’s said “this thing at Kentucky has run its course.”

UK does not have a quad-1 win and the four losses have come by 16, 10, 15 and now 26 to Alabama this weekend, where Crimson Tide fans added insult to injury by chanting “NIT! NIT! NIT!”

The problem for Kentucky is that Calipari’s enormous buyout - currently $42 million we believe - makes it prohibitive to fire him, and he has a lifetime contract.

But as we have seen in the past, and not just at Kentucky though UK is a special case in this regard, fans - and media - can pressure a coach to get the heck out of dodge.

Or in this case, Lexington.

Consider the case of Calipari’s two most recent UK predecessors, Tubby Smith and Billy Gillispie. Smith got to 100 wins quicker than any previous Kentucky coach other than Adolf Rupp, won a national championship...and left for Minnesota.

The Gophers have a nice tradition of their own, but no one is going to confuse it with Kentucky’s.

Gillispie replaced Smith in 2007 and lasted until 2009, when UK fired him because he was “not a good fit” for Kentucky.

Unfortunately for Gillispie, he had signed a memorandum of understanding rather than the seven-year contract Kentucky had offered which made it much easier to fire him.

Later he was accused of abusive behavior at Texas Tech, then got in trouble at Ranger College, where the 2015-16 season was forfeit. Now he’s at Tarleton State which is now a D-1 program.

Calipari understood how to market Kentucky and how to recruit one-and-dones, something no at the time liked but which many soon emulated, including Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.

But there has been discontent all along. When he said at one point that the most important day for Kentucky basketball was the NBA Draft, you could almost hear people saying “now just a minute coach...”

Losing to Saint Peter’s in last spring’s NCAA tournament was a gut punch and the start to this season has accelerated the dissatisfaction.

Calipari is in some ways an admirable man. If nothing else, his children are interesting and intelligent and deeply loyal to their family. Clearly he has good qualities and cannot be the caricature opposing fan bases believe him to be.

But he does have some significant flaws and one of them is dealing with heavy criticism. When he was with the Nets, and flailing, Calipari had an intern call into a sports talk show to defend him. And, more bizarrely, he had his people check to see if his phones were bugged (this was before cell phones). While with the Nets, he could reasonably be described as paranoid.

The New York media is of course ferocious and the fans are a handful.

Currently though, Calipari, is in the most demanding fishbowl in college sports. Alabama football is a close second, but there is no worse place to flail than Rupp Arena.

In short, while Calipari is doing a good job of keeping up appearances externally, internally, he’s almost certainly having a very difficult time. And if the pressure builds, his temptation to look to greener pastures is going to be strong.

The current rumor is Texas, but there have also always been rumors of a return to the NBA. Would he?

If he got the right job, why not? The money would be great, recruiting wouldn’t be an issue and the pressure would likely be much less.

Don’t rule it out.