Despite annual speculation about leaving for the NBA, John Calipari has stayed on at Kentucky for seven seasons and in many ways redefined modern college basketball success in the process. When he was hired away from Memphis in 2009, most thought it was a great get by UK. But many wondered how long Cal would stay in Lexington. In his early years with Kentucky, Cal himself said he wouldn’t last more than a decade.
Now? He’s saying otherwise. Not only does Cal expect to coach well into his 60s, he’s putting this out there: He doesn’t want to leave Kentucky until the day he truly retires. It’s a big statement, one Kentucky fans have been waiting to hear for years and certainly something he’ll be reminded of, monthly, until he does leave UK.
Over at CoachCal.com, Calipari has a 1,400-plus-word post, a state of the UK union-type of address to Wildcat fans. He highlights the charitable nature of UK, and many of its famous alums who are continuing to set examples in their communities at the NBA level. He notes UK has won more games — and reached more Final Fours — the past seven seasons than any other team in college hoops.
Here’s his declaration on staying at UK:
I never thought I would coach until the age of 60. I said that from the day I got here back in 2009. But now that I’m here and I’m entering my eighth season – how crazy is that?! – one thing has become very clear to me: I’ve gone from the business of basketball to the business of helping families. That’s not just a fancy line used on a recruiting pitch. That’s the truth. That’s why I’m here and that’s what’s allowed me to do this. As long as I feel like I can continue to help families, why not keep going?
With that mindset, how long can I coach here? My plan is to coach here for the rest of my career. I want this to be my final coaching position. Kentucky is the gold standard in our sport. It’s been that way throughout the history of our game. It’s one of the reasons I dreamed of one day coaching here. The biggest goal I have – and we all should have – is to make sure Kentucky remains that way.
There will be some who will attack me, attack the program, attack the approach, and some will even say, “He only talks about the NBA.” But I can only tell our fans it’s similar to what Frank Sinatra once said: Our best response … is massive success.
This isn’t entirely shocking news, if you think about it. Here’s the reality of Calipari’s situation. He’s at the best (and in some ways, toughest) job in college basketball. He’s operating at the highest level. He’s winning big — and he’s getting paid bigger. Most NBA jobs can’t offer him more money than what he’s making at UK, and there are only a handful of NBA jobs he’d consider — and even then it’s believed he’d want full control of a team.
That’s unlikely to happen.
So Kentucky it is. And probably will be until he’s done coaching. Until then, the biggest challenge is something he’s mentioned offhand here and there in recent years. Now he’s explicitly laying it out: Calipari wants to topple UCLA’s 11 national titles. UK currently sits at eight.
I hope you understand that it’s going to be very difficult. We’ve won eight titles since 1948, and now we’re going to try to win four more. This could take more than a decade, but so what? Let’s chase it. Can we do it? Sure, but it’s going to be really tough. The tournament isn’t a best-of-seven series and the best team doesn’t always win the title. The trick is to always be one of those teams at the end of the season that’s right there. That’s the first step.
Calipari also writes that Rupp Arena will have upgrades to its video board, venue lighting and a new sound system.
“Will a new arena be in our future? I don’t know, but either way our iconic building needs to give us a great advantage on many fronts,” Calipari writes.
What’s not in doubt: Kentucky is continually a national sports headline as long as Calipari is there. He does more for publicity for his program than any coach at any level in any sport. We are constantly talking, debating, speculating and fighting over Kentucky, and it’s not just because of the program. It’s in good part because of Cal, who’s changed the way we view UK altogether.