John Calipari of Kentucky is widely regarded as a premier coach in his sport. Calipari sits alongside perhaps on Coach K (Duke), Bill Self (Kansas) and Roy Williams (North Carolina) as coaches who can lead their blue blood schools and all the expectations that come along with being in charge of a program that simply HAS to be among the best in the country on a yearly basis.
It seems like it would be easy to argue that a college basketball blue blood should never fall from grace. These programs have built in advantages for recruiting and coaching with their combination of money, boosters, alumni groups, and tradition. It shouldn’t take a premier coach to keep them at the top.
That, though, is simply not true. Historically there are six programs (give or take) that would be granted blue blood status. Of those six, UCLA and Indiana (to a lesser extent) are heavily underperforming their status.
It is also hard to imagine a coach leaving one of those key job voluntarily. When you have one of the best jobs in your sport, one where you can hand pick whatever recruits you think you need to reach the Elite Eight (at a minimum) every year, you tend to keep it. After all, what could be better than cementing your coaching standing in the history of a blue blood?
How about the prospect of becoming a coaching legend at two of the premier institutions in the history of the sport?
Calipari is paid very, very well in Lexington. His total compensation of $9.2 million dollars for this season will only increase in the future as he hits specific escalators in his contract. Kentucky knows they have a premier coach and the powers that be at the school know that they have to pay to keep him in place.
What those powers that be cannot have expected, however, is legitimate interest from UCLA to return the Bruins to their glory days.
Calipari also might have been tempted by a change of scenery. After reaching the Final Four in 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015, the Wildcats have now bowed out at some point during the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for three straight years. While there is no danger that Calipari would have been under any type of job scrutiny at Kentucky, this is a trend that he will need to reverse quickly to justify his monster contract.
UCLA was offering something in the region of $48 million over six years for Coach Cal to jump to the West Coast. Sensing that their premier coach may be intrigued by the offer, Kentucky is set to offer Calipari a lifetime contract that will transition his role from coach to ambassador when the time is right.
The moral of this story is a simple one. Schools realize that coaches that can recruit, develop, and win don’t come around all that often. It also shows that Calipari, or his agent, is a shrewd businessman who knows how to turn rumored interest into the type of contract we would all dream to be on. Being a premier coach really does have its perks!