John Clay: No reason to update Calipari's contract

jclay@herald-leader.comMay 6, 2010 

Just one look.

That's all it took?

Make no mistake, John Calipari did outstanding work his first year as Kentucky's basketball coach. He schmoozed with sponsors, flooded his followers with tweets, pulled in top-shelf recruits, restored the rankings. He pumped vital air into a deflated program.

In other words, he did everything outlined in the job description of his contract.

A handsome contract, we might add. Calipari is the highest-paid coach in all of college basketball, the Brinks truck delivering $31 million to the Calipari casa over a golden eight-year span.

And now, just because Calipari may or may not have batted eyes at the NBA's Chicago Bulls, or even before that, Kentucky is ready to "restructure" that sweetheart deal and wed its coach to a retirement contract?

Come on UK, not to paraphrase Billy Gillispie here, but you've got to be a little tougher than that.

After all, you think this is the only time Calipari's name is going to slide down the employment grapevine? Please.

Cal's name is omni-present, whether it be recruiting, or vacating, or winning, or Hoops(ing) for Haiti, or podcasting via Lexy. Given his BFF relationship with LeBron James, and the tantalizing fact James is a free agent, Calipari's name will be mentioned for every coaching opening (and non-opening) from Sacramento to Saskatchewan — David Stern would put a franchise there if LeBron wanted one.

In fact, even now, Calipari's cast of critics see this particular appearance in the news cycle as the work of a master manipulator. After all, no one changes the subject better than Coach Cal.

Example: After UK hit West Virginia's 1-3-1 wall in the NCAA Tournament, conversation centered on Cal's X's and O's skill, and the impending depletion of the UK roster. Two weeks later came the blue-chip bonanza of star recruits Brandon Knight and Michael Gilchrist committing to Kentucky on the same day. Subject changed.

Monday, Calipari was busy defending his program in light of a Herald-Leader report revealing the men's basketball team's poor showing in the classroom last fall.

Tuesday, an "anonymous sources" report by Yahoo Sports linked Cal to Chicago. No sooner had that hit iPads than UK was issuing a calm-the-waters tweet from Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart saying a contract extension was in the works. Subject changed.

This isn't to blame Calipari. There's nothing wrong with getting what you can get. And for his part, Calipari claimed Wednesday, via podcast, he does not want a raise. And yes, Calipari also claimed Barnhart approached him "10 days ago" with a new-deal offer.

If that's true, then why was UK so eager to squelch the unsubstantiated speculation Tuesday night? For that matter, why is the school changing a perfectly acceptable and generous contract in the first place?

It seems a tad soon to reward a first-year coach with an Elite Eight appearance — Tubby Smith had four of those — just because his name is vaguely linked to another job, especially a job Calipari himself told ESPN's Andy Katz he was not even interested in taking.

It's that sort of thinking that will eventually cause college athletics' fragile economic bubble to burst.

Talk about your toxic assets. Texas football coach Mack Brown's salary was bumped from $3 million to $5 million a year. And Brown lost the BCS title game.

In just the past two days, both Florida and South Carolina announced they were rewarding their assistant football coaches with fat salary increases. Florida, maybe. But South Carolina?

We in the real world look for ways to deal with layoffs, furloughs and shrinking budgets. Athletic departments look for expanded revenue streams to throw more money at their problems.

Belt-tightening isn't in their business plan.

Heaven forbid, someone reports John Calipari is taking a second look.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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