Barnhart not bothered about Calipari's NBA suitors

jtipton@herald-leader.comJune 10, 2014 

NCAA Kentucky Final Four Basketball

Kentucky Coach John Calipari shared a light moment with his team during practice at the Final Four this past season.


Keeping an unusually successful coach — not the idea of outbidding an NBA team — led the University of Kentucky to re-write John Calipari's contract, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said Tuesday.

Barnhart dismissed NBA speculation, including this week's talk of the Cleveland Cavaliers wanting Calipari as team president as well as coach, as incidental to Calipari's new seven-year, $52.5 million contract.

"I think Cal's obviously a highly talented man," Barnhart said. "He is going to be a person people talk about all the time. His name is going to come up in a lot of places, and it should because he's worthy of that. ... As a CEO, he does a remarkable job."

UK president Eli Capilouto echoed the sentiment.

"Since my arrival at the University of Kentucky, John Calipari has been a wonderful ambassador and partner in all the things we've been trying to do in transforming this campus," he said. "He is an asset to this institution and I think to the commonwealth."

When asked about lavishing even more riches on a coach already drawing an annual salary of $5.5 million, Capilouto noted how UK's athletic department is a self-sustaining financial entity.

"One of the reasons is certainly the success of our men's basketball program," the UK president said. "That success, besides its financial return, yields many intangibles. It excites those donors I visit who contribute to our academic program. It bonds the Big Blue Nation together with strong support for our university."

Speculation about a coach moving to an NBA team is a part of life for Kentucky basketball, Barnhart said. Because UK has few, if any, peers in college basketball, any notion of upward mobility means the NBA.

"In the world of college basketball, there's just no name bigger than us," Barnhart said. "So it has to automatically go to the NBA. ... Any job that opens up, six names get thrown out there, and he'll always be one of the six."

Barnhart acknowledged the speculation after Kentucky's run to this year's NCAA Tournament championship game. It began with former UK All-American Rex Chapman tweeting the evening of the title game that a Calipari move to the Los Angeles Lakers was a "done deal." Calipari's name also came up in the New York Knicks' search for a coach.

When asked to identify the tipping point when such speculation causes him to react in a serious way, Barnhart said he tries to keep an even keel.

"I've been in this long enough to not try to forecast too much," he said. "It's an ever-changing landscape. I don't get too shook up one way or the other. ... If you get too emotional, you make bad choices."

Besides the two-year extension and the pay increase to more than $8 million annually in the final three seasons, the new contract also removed incentive bonuses for such accomplishments as winning the Southeastern Conference's regular-season or postseason tournament titles, receiving an NCAA Tournament bid or advancing to the Sweet 16 round. Instead, the increase in salary takes into account those accomplishments.

"Not that we will be guaranteed to win them," Barnhart said, "but we've sort of shown we can be in that mix fairly frequently."

The deal marks the fourth contract for Calipari in five seasons as Kentucky coach. Whether or not adjustments come as frequently in the future, Capilouto offered a note of finality.

"I hope he's thinking of his job the way I'm thinking of mine," the UK president said. "And that is I want it to be my best and my last job."

Calipari, 55, will be 62 at the end of the new contract.

Budget approved

UK's Board of Trustees approved an athletic budget of $117,711,800 for the 2014-15 school year.

The Trustees also approved the naming of a new soccer complex in honor of donors Wendell and Vickie Bell.

Capilouto also noted the UK softball team. Besides advancing to the Women's College World Series for the first time in school history, the team had a collective grade-point average of 3.6, the UK president said. Every player had a GPA of 3.0 or better.

"That, to me is UK athletics," Capilouto said. "And I want to thank Mitch Barnhart's leadership."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog:

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