Big Move: Legendary Head Coach John Calipari Reportedly Ditching Kentucky for Another Team

Big Move: Legendary Head Coach John Calipari Reportedly Ditching Kentucky for Another Team

For the first time in a decade and a half, John Calipari won’t be patrolling courtside for the University of Kentucky.

Instead, according to multiple reports, the basketball coaching legend will be taking his talents to Fayetteville, Arkansas — and taking over men’s hoops for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks.

Senior ESPN college basketball writer Pete Thamel reported the development late Sunday night in a social media post, writing that the deal would be completed in the next day and would last five years.

The news comes after Calipari’s Wildcats suffered another disappointing March Madness in 2024.

While Kentucky came in with a No. 3 seed, the Wildcats were upset in the first round by the Oakland Golden Grizzlies, a No. 14 seed and a Detroit-area commuter school.

Calipari won a national championship with Kentucky in 2012 and also took home the prestigious Naismith College Coach of the Year Award, awarded by the Atlanta Tipoff Club, three times coaching three separate universities: In 1996 with the University of Massachusetts, 2008 with the University of Memphis and 2015 with Kentucky.

However, his teams have continued to disappoint in March in recent years, not having made it past the second round since 2019 and winning the SEC championship only once during that period.

As OutKick’s Trey Wallace noted, “there was thought that AD Mitch Barnhart might decide to move on from Calipari.”

“But, as we all watched play out in the days following the loss to Oakland, the Kentucky administration decided it was best that Calipari returns for another season.”

Calipari, however, has reportedly decided it was best to move on, however — and, yet again, he’s going to be trying to rebuild a storied college program.

While Arkansas has been a regular participant in the NCAA tournament for decades, the program hasn’t been a national powerhouse since the heyday of Nolan Richardson’s teams in the 1990s, when the Razorbacks won the championship game in 1994, defeating Duke, but lost the 1995 national championship game to UCLA.

Last week, as USA Today noted, the University of Southern California poached Arkansas coach Eric Musselman to rebuild its program after a disappointing season.

As Sports Illustrated noted, Arkansas’ swiftness in picking up Calipari — a shrewd recruiter — will be key as recruits and players in the transfer portal decide where they’re going to be headed.

“Calipari’s move will have a significant impact on the basketball landscape. For starters, he’s known for not only recruiting the best players in the world, but also developing that talent in a very short time,” the outlet reported.

“When it comes to the NBA Draft every year, Calipari sends a tremendous amount of players to the league, and those prospects generally have a high rate of success. As such, expect Arkansas to produce several NBA talents each year, just as it had under Musselman the past few years.”

Calipari initially rose to prominence by building UMass into a national powerhouse and taking them to a Final Four in 1996 with future NBA talent Marcus Camby.

Calipari then himself decamped to the NBA from 1996 to 1999, spending three seasons coaching the team then known as the New Jersey Nets (now Brooklyn Nets). The team made the playoffs only once, getting swept in the first round by the eventual champion Chicago Bulls in the 1997-98 season.

After a stint as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers, Calipari returned to the college game in 2000 with the University of Memphis, a team that had fallen on hard times since its glory days in the 1980s, when it reached the Final Four.

After two Elite Eight appearances, Calipari guided the Tigers to the 2008 national championship, losing to the University of Kansas Jayhawks in overtime, 75-68. However, the team was officially stripped of its victories and its appearance in the championship that season after star Derrick Rose was ruled academically ineligible, according to The New York Times.

In 1997, Calipari’s Final Four team with UMass was also officially stripped of its results as Camby was found to have accepted illegal gifts.

None of the blemishes on Calipari’s record dissuaded Kentucky from hiring him off the national championship appearance — nor, in fact, does it appear to have dissuaded the Razorbacks. Nor should it. The patina of collegiate amateurism sloppily applied to what was always semi-pro prep for the big leagues has effectively been removed by the “name, image and likeness” rules adopted by the NCAA, among other developments.

The big question is whether Calipari still has the ability to win like he did at UMass, Memphis and Kentucky. While certainly not ancient at 65, he’s also not a spring chicken — and he hasn’t put together a solid tournament run since 2019, although much of that could be blamed on the chaos wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whatever the case, it looks like he has five years to prove he’s still got it — at least on paper. Whether or not he stays that long if the returns are as disappointing as they’ve been as of late in Lexington is anyone’s guess.


This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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