Kentucky has hit a home run. Maybe even a grand slam.
The Wildcats lured John Calipari away from the University of Memphis on Tuesday, ending a gut-wrenching four-day search for a new men’s basketball coach.
The school officially announced Calipari’s hiring late Tuesday night and announced the coach has agreed to an eight-year contract. He was introduced as the school’s 22nd head coach in history this morning.
Over the past three days Calipari has dominated the headlines and has been the talk of the entire state even though March Madness is in full swing.
A year ago, Calipari’s team at Memphis was in the midst of preparing for the Final Four. This year, he’s preparing to make a move to Lexington.
What a difference a year makes.
Throughout the process, he’s had two towns – Memphis and Lexington – on the edge since Kentucky reached out to him last weekend to gauge his interest in one of the premier coaching jobs in the nation.
His hiring immediately unites a fan base that was seemingly split after former coach Billy Gillispie was dismissed after two seasons just five days ago.
While Kentucky was seeking his services, other schools were knocking on his door. Calipari reportedly turned down a “blank check” offer to take over at the University of Arizona, which is looking for a replacement for its legendary coach – Lute Olson.
Unlike the last nationwide hunt for a men’s basketball coach, Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart didn’t waste any time finding a successor to Gillispie. He simply went after one of the best college coaches in America.
He succeeded with perhaps the most important hire in his tenure as the Cats’ top official in the athletics department.
It’s not known if Barnhart and will likely never be known if he had any other targets in mind, but Barnhart found someone who was willing to come with an understanding of what coaching at Kentucky means and will embrace the history of the program.
Calipari’s teams employ an up-and-down style and he’s known as one of the best recruiters on the college circuit. He can coach too. In the last four seasons, Coach Cal has guided the Tigers to at least 30 wins, including a 33-4 record this past season.
As for his ambassador skills, it shouldn’t be an issue. The Kentucky coach has the charisma and knows what it takes to lead a program.
When Kentucky was calling, Calipari told his former players in Memphis that Kentucky basketball was equivalent to the football program at Notre Dame.
He is right. Kentucky is and should remain a force in college basketball.
To his credit, Calipari spoke to retired Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall on Tuesday afternoon. Hall is one of the few links to legendary coach Adolph Rupp. Just the fact the Calipari called Hall serves as notice that he’s interested in the history of the program and what it’s like to coach the Wildcats.
Even former players are excited to hear about Calipari’s coming to the Bluegrass. Jack Givens, who led the Wildcats to a National Championship in 1978, was giddy after hearing the news. On his Facebook page, Givens posted that he was “happy about our new coach.”
That’s a good sign when former players are excited about a new coach.