Calipari — What changed in two years?

The question came up again today in a segment ESPN.com’s Pat Forde did with Outside The Lines. “What changed about Calipari from two years ago (when UK didn’t look his way)?” UK fans are breathing fire over this. Calipari himself dashed out a quick tweet in response. Not sure what everybody is so riled up about.

The day Calipari was hired, the front page of The Courier-Journal carried a column I wrote headlined, “Two big seasons led Calipari to UK.” A day later, I wrote about how UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart’s hiring process was different this year than it was when he wound up with Billy Gillispie.

But, since the question is a topic of conversation, let’s take another look at what did change in two years . . .

1). Calipari went to the NCAA championship game. Let’s not forget, when UK was not looking Calipari’s direction before, he had not advanced past the Elite Eight since his run with UMass. But when he made it to the title game two seasons ago, and won Naismith Coach of the Year honors, it made the college hoops establishment look at him in a different light.

2). Memphis’ headlines stayed on the sports pages. They’d had a rocky run at Memphis, where the police blotter is concerned, for a while. But in the 07-08 and 08-09 seasons, the news about Memphis was made mostly on the court.

3). The national media got to know Memphis. You can’t understate the importance of the 2008 Final Four for Calipari and the Tigers. Before that, most members of the media around the nation knew Memphis only by reputation and the occasional national TV appearance. They hadn’t sat down with Chris Douglas-Roberts or Joey Dorsey. When they got the chance to meet those players at the Final Four, they learned that this was a bunch that was able to laugh at itself, offer insight into the game and their style, and articulate pretty well the experience they were having. And while most of the media had had experience with Calipari, I think it began to see him in a different way, too. He stood in contrast to coaches who dictated their personalities onto players in every setting. Calipari, on the other hand, found a framework in which players could play their games and be themselves, for better or worse. And I think where a lot of national folks might have just viewed it as anarchy before, they began to see the design in it, and appreciate it to a degree.

I won’t forget the California paper that called the Memphis-UCLA game a “coaching mismatch,” stating outright that Calipari wasn’t in the same league as Bruins’ coach Ben Howland. When asked about the “coaching mismatch” remark, Calipari handled it well, saying, “Come on. I don’t think Ben is that bad.” Then Memphis proceeded to out play UCLA not only with its offense, but its defense.

4. The NCAA didn’t set up a field office in Memphis. There were a many insinuations about the Memphis program, but at the height of its success, the NCAA either wasn’t sniffing around Memphis, or did its sniffing and found no problems.

5. Calipari backed up his title game run. While Billy Donovan followed back-to-back national titles with two NIT appearances, Calipari lost three players to the NBA Draft and reloaded to get back to the Sweet 16. It was a young Memphis team that bowed out this season, but one that was clearly poised to continue rising, with the recruits Calipari was pursuing.

6. Kentucky’s administration changed. Mitch Barnhart, two years prior, discounted the importance of having a strong public personality at the helm of the basketball program. Billy Gillispie taught him some lessons.

Barnhart flat-out said it: “Everybody lives and learns, as do I. Last time didn’t work out. Did I learn from that? Hopefully, I got better this time. . . . I know I’m happy with where we are and the coach we got.”

That’s about it. Nothing too complicated. You can’t look at the past two seasons and say Calipari didn’t gain some clout. You don’t go 71-6, go undefeated in two conference seasons, reach the NCAA title game and win national coach of the year without gaining a little stature. To look at those two seasons, with the stories both on and off the court, it’s not hard to see why Calipari was seen in a different light.

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26 thoughts on “Calipari — What changed in two years?

  1. Nice article, Forde is welcome to his opinions. Eric, I think you actually stated some facts, unlike some of your fellow journalists. Barnhart made a major blunder two years ago, but I think he made the right decision this time.It is yet to be seen what Calipari can do with a very inexperienced but talented group and handle the ridiculous expectations that will come with them. However, credit should be given where credit is due, he has pulled a phenomenal class on his first go around at UK.

  2. Thanks for the fix on the Elite Eight reference. Dashed this off pretty quick while working on another column. Again, I didn’t see that Forde said anything out of the ordinary. Those are the concerns that were voiced when Calipari came, by me and others. I took a lot of heat when I wrote these same facts the day Calipari was hired, because they were woven along with “the record” such as it is, of player arrests, associations and other questions people have had about Calipari.But I do honestly believe that not just the landscape at UK, but Calipari’s place as a coach, changed over that two years.Had Calipari not gone to the title game, and had he still had multiple players in trouble with the law when the UK job came open again, I’m not sure UK would’ve gone after him. That’s a matter of debate. But it really doesn’t matter. He did some things in those two years that made him an easier sell at UK, and of course, his recruiting results now are selling themselves.

  3. UK 2009 was an easier sell than UK 2007. I think Barnhart realized when Tubby left he wasn’t going to be able to pick and choose. Tubby had a lot respect in the basketball world, however, that world didn’t include the Commonwealth.Barnhart was also infactuated with Donovan, who doesn’t make a move unless ole Dad gives his approval. I believe this is just a couple of the reasons that led to the rushed and unsearched hire of Gillispie.

  4. Not so fast, Fast Eric.A red warning flag goes up with this story, with the hiring of Rod Strickland as an assistant coach. This is a volatile guy and he’s in a position at UK where one mistake can cost dearly. He got put there by none other than John Calipari, who still has greasy Godfather black hair and that isn’t going to change (If it does, I’ll worry even more).As a fan, I’m excited about the recruiting success and, after football this year, it’ll be fun to see them on the court again. But Pat Forde and you are just a little early reporting that the jury is in on Calipari, Rod Strickland, and more than one punkass punk. The guy hasn’t even coached his first Garner-Webb game yet.davidm

  5. Its the double standard that journalism has turned too. If you can make assumptions in one situation (like Calipari being hired) then why can’t you make assumptions in another situtation (Pitino vs Sypher). Its tough for fans of UK to sit back and watch while ESPN writer Pat Forde makes assumptions about their coach, but the coach 60 miles up the road (who he wrote a book with) writes a total “fluff” piece on a federal investigation about. By the way, he should have declined it with ESPN or ESPN should have known their was a conflict of interest. It is just tough to see the “double standards” in play. Also, if something like the Pitino thing happened with a UK coach, I guarantee Jerry Tipton would have written about it, Pat Forde, and someone from Courier…Why, you ask? Because UK does not force their hand on the media… have to take the good with the bad, thats the way it works. Just ask Tipton, he has made a living off “negative” slanted article towards UK.

  6. With respect to the Forde piece on OTL and a lot of his comments after the initial hire, I have one question…How do seemingly “reputable” journalists get away with dangerous insinuations about Calipari? Do we live in a society now where such allegations are fostered by “reputable” journalist? It seems very unprofessional for someone in Forde’s position to continue to make these allegations. If there is information to pass-on, perhaps he should investigate the circumstance. But to continue to publish rumors and innuendos is really walking a fine-line at this point. Unless, of course, he’s intentionally trying slander/libel/or defame to diminish what the man has done throughout his career.

  7. Memphis would have just been another good team in a power conference, and they would have never got a high enough seed to be able to coast into the final four two years ago.

  8. Eric,The comments about the rumours/innuendo/hearsay that are repeated about Calipari (whether by Forde, Mark Story of the LHL, or others) versus how the rigid “morals” and “standards” the media has in the Pitino/Sypher situation is one I would like to see addressed. Either by you, the Sports Editor, or even the Editor. Personally, I believe Forde has lost all credibility as an objective college basketball voice whe he signed on with Pitino. It is now in his best interests financially that Pitino succeed. He needs to stick to horse racing or the article on Elliot County, which was great.

  9. I would also note that his Dribble Drive Motion Offense got a lot of publicity and added to the spotlight, making him *the* coach that future NBA players want to play for, along with the successes of recent players heading to the NBA.

  10. No top 50 coach wanted to step in and assume the reigns of a uk team in turmoil, fanbase in total caos and the stable empty.BD didn’t,reportedly Calipari wasn’t interested in his dream job then (see spams wildcat page arcives)the UK ad had to find a scapegoat so in steps BCG. As was predictable,IMO, the media began to unravel every enuendo,rumor and story that could be imagined about BCG,turning the now re-united fanbase against him ( the OTS defection forgotten)and magnifying his inability to conduct pleasing interviews,coulpled with a nit appearance,and dispite having put fresh horses in the stable,recruiting and laying the ground work for over half the incoming class,he was easy pickens for termination.Now calipari can take his dream job, connect with the fans finish the class of studs coming in and acting as savior to Big Blue Nation. Every coach is scrutinized and why not?What did change in two years? the size of the paycheck? IMO

  11. Actually 11:42 Calipari has said he checked for a message from UK every day the went without a coach two years ago. He would have taken the job in a heartbeat. UK didn’t even consider him then.

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