Kentucky's Barnhart says he's working on contract extension for Calipari

barnhart seeks deal through 2019

jtipton@herald-leader.comJune 11, 2011 

UK head coach John Calipari during a public practice session for the men's NCAA Final Four semifinal college basketball game Friday, April 1, 2011, in Houston. Butler plays VCU Saturday. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

MARK CORNELISON | STAFF

A University of Kentucky tweet Friday about work under way toward a contract extension for basketball coach John Calipari came as no surprise. It followed the school's first trip to the Final Four in 12 years, advancement to the Elite Eight the year before and his recruitment of three straight No. 1-rated classes.

"If John can't get one, who can?" ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said of the pending extension.

Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart termed an extension as a means "to ensure that (Calipari) has long tenure at Kentucky."

Barnhart, 51, likened himself to Calipari in terms of career arcs.

"We are the same age (Calipari is six months older) and share some of the same thoughts on our careers," he tweeted. "And I'd like to align his contract with mine."Earlier this year, UK retiring president Lee Todd extended Barnhart's contract for three years and gave him a raise of $125,000, to $600,000 a year. Barnhart's new contract ends June 30, 2019.

Calipari's current contract expires on March 30, 2017.

The Barnhart tweets did not mention a pay raise. Calipari's original eight-year contract called for pay totalling $31.65 million.

Barnhart also suggested he planned to have a long tenure at UK.

"As I said before, I have unfinished business here and this is where I plan to be until I decide on my next path," Barnhart wrote. "That will be something that will probably be outside of athletics when I'm 60 years old."

Barnhart's tweet represented the second straight year of talk about a new contract for Calipari.

When Calipari-to-the-NBA rumors swirled in the spring of 2010, Kentucky officials began restructuring the coach's contract.

When asked why he'd restructure a deal after only one season, 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."

Another ESPN college basketball analyst, Dick Vitale, called Calipari a "perfect fit" for Kentucky basketball's high-pressure, highly scrutinized program.

"Rick Pitino was perfect for Kentucky," Vitale said. "John has the same Pitino personality. He can keep rolling at tough times."

In his first two seasons, Calipari restored Kentucky to elite status in college basketball. The program became the first to reach 2,000 victories. After ending a record 12-year Final Four drought, the Cats returned to college basketball's grandest stage this spring, and they go into next season as one of the favorites to win the national championship.

"That's sort of beyond-the-wildest-dreams performance," Bilas said of the job Calipari has done. "If anybody questions that, there's going to be a lot of guys in the unemployment line."

Calipari, 52, has talked about not coaching beyond age 60.

An extension would not bind Calipari to Kentucky. But Bilas noted that rumors of NBA jobs, which have included Calipari to the New York Knicks this spring, are a good problem to have.

"If I was the A.D. at a program, one of my goals would be to have my phone ringing off the hook" with teams seeking to hire the coach, Bilas said. "That's better than meeting after meeting asking what are we going to do with this guy?"

Bilas saw rumors of teams seeking Calipari as predictable as Kentucky working on a contract extension.

"To quote a line from The Godfather, 'This is the business we've chosen.'

"It's part of the deal."

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