Barnhart says restructuring Calipari's contract sends a message


Herald-Leader Staff WriterMay 16, 2010 

Speculation about John Calipari leaving surfaces. His bosses rework his contract.

This exercise was repeated again and again in Calipari's nine seasons at Memphis. So no surprise that when Calipari-to-the-NBA rumors swirled this spring, Kentucky officials began restructuring the coach's contract.

When asked why he'd restructure a deal that has seven years and tens of millions of dollars remaining, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said, "Any time you have success, we want to make sure we don't ignore it."

Barnhart also spoke of enhancing the momentum of Calipari's first season and sending a message.

"We wanted to send a message that we're doing OK and we're headed in the right direction," Barnhart said. " ... There's a message in recruiting that we're committed long-term to keeping John here."

If Calipari's stay at Memphis is any guide, Barnhart should be prepared to go through this pseudo drama nearly every spring. Here's a rundown of Calipari while Memphis coach courtesy of the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

■ March 30, 2001. Days after his first Memphis team finishes third in the National Invitation Tournament, Calipari confirms that he expects to talk to South Carolina A.D. Mike McGee about that job.

Memphis increases his annual salary from $550,000 to $1 million.

■ June 2003. Calipari's name is mentioned for jobs with the Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers.

■ Dec. 19, 2003. St. John's fires Mike Jarvis as coach, sparking talk of Calipari as the replacement.

In January, Memphis extends Calipari's contract and raises his annual salary to $1.15 million and adds bonuses that can make the package worth more than $1.5 million per year.

■ May 26, 2005. Calipari speaks to Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, but stays at Memphis.

■ March 27, 2006. A day after Memphis loses to UCLA in the NCAA Tournament region finals, The Bloomington (Ind.) Herald-Times quotes unnamed sources as saying Calipari is the leading candidate to become Indiana coach.

■ April 10, 2006. North Carolina State officials fly to Memphis to talk to Calipari about their coaching vacancy.

Memphis raises Calipari's annual salary to $1.3 million and adds incentives to make the deal worth a potential $1.7 million per year. Memphis also permits Calipari to negotiate with any shoe company to outfit the Memphis team and keep all the income. Previously, he shared shoe company revenue with the school.

"This wasn't about money," Calipari says. "Because if it was, I wouldn't be standing here."

■ March 24, 2007. Calipari denies interest in the UK coaching job. (At his introductory news conference here two years later, he said he impatiently waited for UK to call.)

Two days later, Memphis gives Calipari a one-year contract extension and an annual raise of more than $500,000.

■ April 27, 2008. Memphis Athletics Director R.C. Johnson fires a pre-emptive strike after Memphis loses to Kansas in the national championship game. He gives Calipari a new five-year contract with an annual base salary of $2.35 million.

■ March 2009. Calipari addresses rumors that he'll leave Memphis for UK by saying, "This (Memphis) is where I want to coach."

■ May 4, 2010. With persistent rumors saying Calipari might leave for the NBA, Barnhart says that he hopes to restructure the coach's contract.

"So that he's the coach at Kentucky until he retires," a UK news release quotes Barnhart.

■ May 14, 2010. Calipari sends a message on Twitter that says, "I will be coaching at Kentucky next year. Now let's finish what we started!"

On his blog for, Gary Parrish writes that Calipari would entertain offers to coach LeBron James in Cleveland, New Jersey or Chicago.

Status quo

Expansion of the Big Ten. The Big 12 protecting its assets. The Big East dissolving.

As talk of a major realignment swirls in college athletics, Kentucky figures to be on the sideline.

"I'm glad we're not part of it at this juncture," UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said last week.

Barnhart sounded like he did not envision UK jumping into the swirl at any juncture.

"We're in a good league," he said. "We're in a great position. We have a wonderful television contract."

Barnhart said member schools "get along magnificently well."

There has been speculation of the SEC inviting such schools as Florida State and Miami to join. Noting that such expansion would mean a smaller share of bowl/TV money for each member school, Barnhart said with a wry smile, "I'm not really in favor of that."

Oh, Canada

A rule change will allow Kentucky to tour Canada earlier than what would have been permissible in the past. Under existing rules, incoming freshmen would not be permitted to play if such a tour came before the start of the fall semester.

However, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors adopted a change in their April meetings. Incoming freshmen can practice in preparation for a tour that will be played before the start of the fall semester as long as they are enrolled in a three-hour summer class and can play on tour only if the three-hour class is passed.

Here's the rationale for the change provided by the NCAA: Schools can go on a foreign tour in each sport no more than once every four years. Therefore, an athlete who initially enrolls as a freshman during the fall term after a summer foreign tour will not have an opportunity to participate in the institution's next foreign tour until the summer after his or her senior year. By that time, many athletes will have graduated and/or exhausted their eligibility. Consequently, one class every four years may not have a legitimate opportunity to participate on a foreign tour.

Help for Strickland?

UK fan Jim Hartigan, a retired mental health professional, had a question concerning Rod Strickland's move from assistant coach to off-court staffer in the UK basketball office. The change came after police charged Strickland with driving under the influence.

"Although his recent arrest has not been resolved in court, I see no mention of any sort of alcohol treatment that Mr. Strickland has received, or that the university has made a part of their agreement, to continue with his contract," Hartigan wrote in an e-mail.

The charge of driving under the influence was not the only time Strickland has had alcohol-related brushes with the law.

"I realize that the university and most UK fans want to sweep this away, with as little notice as possible," Hartigan wrote. "But, this man's treatment is the most salient aspect of this story from this point forward, and I have seen no mention of it in any accounts of his history with alcohol-related problems, or as a condition for continuing with the university. Have I missed something? If not, why is that so?"

When asked if UK had insisted that Strickland seek treatment as a condition to remain an employee, UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy sent an e-mail saying, "The change was made per his request."

Claiborne recalled I

The UK basketball team's 2.025 grade-point average in the fall semester (the lowest among any of the teams the school sponsors) led reader Lee Witte to ponder the athletics-vs.-academics dynamic in college sports. He put the priority on athletics.

"Maybe the Cats should bring back Jerry Claiborne and he can tutor them so they can go 0-for-the-season like they did in 1985 in football," wiseguy Witte wrote in an e-mail.

Actually, Witte meant Claiborne's first UK football team, which posted an 0-10-1 record in 1982.

Witte, 38, lives in Fort Thomas. "I grew up a Wildcat fan during the early years and have been very happy that we are finally getting some talent back in the program," he wrote in defense of John Calipari, whose first UK basketball team had a 35-3 record.

Witte works as a mortgage loan officer at Fifth Third Bank's headquarters in Cincinnati. "I graduated from NKU (Northern Kentucky University) but have regretted not attending UK all my life and will be sending my daughter there in a couple years," he wrote.

Claiborne recalled II

The priority coaches place on academics can make a huge difference. And not every coach is willing to sacrifice academics and life lessons on the altar of sporting victory.

Last week, former UK linebacker Randy Holleran recalled one-on-one meetings Coach Jerry Claiborne scheduled with players between the fall semester of 1988 and the spring semester of 1989.

Holleran expected a pat on the back and words of encouragement. His standout sophomore season in 1988 included being named to The Associated Press All-Southeastern Conference team.

Instead, Claiborne expressed his disappointment at a borderline "C" Holleran had gotten in an introductory calculus class. Claiborne, who had been a math major at UK, noted that he made Phi Beta Kappa.

"I thought he was telling me what fraternity he had been in," Holleran said.

Claiborne then volunteered himself as Holleran's tutor. The coach said he would come to Holleran's dorm twice a week for hour-long tutoring sessions that began at 5:30 a.m.

Holleran, who was in no position to decline the tutoring, stumbled out of his room sleepy-eyed for the first session when Claiborne woke him up with a knock on the door. The coach was not amused.

For the second session, Holleran was in place and ready to hit the books when Claiborne arrived.

As a senior in 1990, Holleran made the SEC's academic honor roll and was named second-team All-American by Football News.

Cal helps charity

WHBQ, the Fox affiliate in Memphis, reported Tuesday that UK Coach John Calipari had made a five-year, $1 million commitment to the Memphis-based charity Street Ministries.

Street Ministries announced Tuesday that the Calipari Family Foundation made the first installment in the amount of $100,000 in January.

"With this grant, John and Ellen are choosing to address such issues as college scholarships, financial literacy, college prep initiatives, camping opportunities for youth, and many other programs needed to fund under-served adolescents in the Memphis metropolitan area," the WHBQ report said.

Street Ministries works in partnership with the Memphis Grizzlies Charitable Foundation.

Job descriptions

With Deputy Director of Athletics Rob Mullens acting as a liaison to UK basketball, might his duties conflict with Director of Basketball Operations Martin Newton?

"Martin Newton will continue to handle internal operations with the men's basketball team," spokesman DeWayne Peevy wrote in an email. "Rob Mullens will deal mainly with external operations with men's basketball."

Marshall to Lexington

The Marshall University Coaches' Tour comes to Lexington on May 26. The event, which is sponsored by The Central Kentucky Big Green Chapter, will be at Andover Golf and Country Club.

Tickets cost $100, which includes a round of golf, lunch and dinner. Tickets only for dinner are $35.

The event is open to the public. Marshall's new football coach, Doc Holliday, and new basketball coach, Tom Herrion, are scheduled to attend.

Tickets can be ordered by calling (866) 443-7310 or (304) 696-6665 or by email at or by contacting Terry Atkinson at (859) 523-0603 or

Happy birthday

To former UK All-American Ron Mercer. He turns 34 on Tuesday.

Mercer lives in his hometown of Nashville, where he's finishing his UK degree through correspondence courses. He also manages several business investments.

Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. Reach him at

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service