John Calipari and Rick Pitino discussed the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry, Pitino’s early days at UK and their introductions to coaching during an hourlong podcast the Kentucky coach released on Thursday morning.
Calipari’s recently launched “Cal Cast” has included previous guests such as former NBA star Charles Barkley, and college coaches Jim Harbaugh, Mike Krzyzewki and Geno Auriemma, but fans have anticipated the release of the Pitino podcast since Calipari announced it was coming earlier this month.
“We don’t exchange cards. No birthday cards. No Christmas cards. But, you will find out that there is respect,” Calipari said in introducing the podcast with his rival coach at Louisville. “I respect him. He respects me. We’re rivals. We’re right down the road. It might get ugly at times. But at the end of the day we’re in the same profession.”
Calipari said the two were not in the same room during the interview. Pitino joined the podcast by phone. The interview was conducted only days after Louisville beat Kentucky 73-70 in the teams’ annual rivalry game on Dec. 21.
“I’ve got to live with the game you just beat us,” Calipari said, laughing. “I’ve got to live with this now for a year.”
Pitino replied: “How would you like to live with it being 1-8,” which was Pitino’s record against Calipari in their previous nine meetings.
The only time the interview approached uncomfortability was near the end, when Calipari asked Pitino how much he thinks a coach should be responsible for in the oversight of a program. Pitino’s Louisville program self-imposed penalties last year after a scandal involving strippers allegedly holding parties in the players’ dormitory.
Pitino compared being a head coach to being a parent. He said a head coach tries to teach his players and assistants the proper way to behave but that it’s impossible to monitor their actions 24 hours a day.
“I’m hoping they’re doing the right things,” he said. “Certainly we want the responsibility we want the accountability but we can’t be the scapegoats for society today.”
Andre McGee, the former U of L assistant alleged to have paid for the stripper parties, was part of Pitino’s explanation, although he did not name McGee in the podcast.
“I’ve had 29 (assistant coaches) that have gone on to prosperity and doing a great job and one went the wrong way,” Pitino said. “Well, I’ve got to be accountable for that one person and feel very sad he did the wrong things. That being said, there’s certain things we can’t control in our lives. This is a college atmosphere. Certain things we’re not in control of. ... as a parent as well as a basketball coach.”
Among the first questions Calipari asked Pitino during the podcast was whether the Louisville coach had read his new book.
Pitino said he read the book jacket. When he saw a chapter called “Assembling Talent” he said he bought five copies for each of his assistant coaches.
The discussion then turned to the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry.
Pitino said that when he arrived at Kentucky, radio legend Cawood Ledford and UK equipment manager Bill Keightley quickly indoctrinated him.
“The way Bill Keightley talked about Louisville is like Lucifer with horns. “I thought Denny Crum had horns coming out of his head the way he was talking.”
Ledford explained to Pitino the importance of basketball to UK fans.
“You realize it’s a symbol of pride. It’s their life,” Pitino said. “It was tough for me to understand because sports has always been a meaningful distraction. And we’re into it big time, but I never knew that you’re not going to have a wedding on a game night. You’re never going to get buried, have a funeral. What I witnessed from my years (at Kentucky) was something to behold. Then I come to Louisville. Louisville is bit different. They’re very passionate. They want to beat Kentucky. It’s a little bit different but the rivalry is special because the fans make it special.”
Calipari added: “I don’t think they hate each other. But they keep an eye on each other.”
Pitino’s early years at UK
Pitino said two big surprises awaited him when he took the Kentucky job.
“I was blown away when I arrived, at the facilities,” he said. “When you think of Kentucky you think, obviously it’s going to be the Taj Mahal. I did hear about the Wildcat Lodge but ... everything was antiquated. There was no weight room. There were barbells on the floor. ... I couldn’t believe it.”
Pitino added: “They just lived on the reputation of Kentucky basketball. From a facilities standpoint everybody would be really shocked knowing what we have today.”
Additionally, he was taken aback by the amount of attention basketball received here.
“Every single night that I went to bed I would just say to myself this is a make believe world I’m living in right now. It was so much attention. You go to the grocery story and people come up to you and started asking questions about every recruit that I didn’t even know.”
Pitino said in his early days living in Lexington, fans came by his house and took home dirt from his yard in jars.
“It is an incredible fish bowl. Louisville and Kentucky are a little different there. There’s a following in Louisville but it’s not that way. It’s much different in that regard. The passion for the game itself is incredible.”
Pitino credited then-UK athletics director C.M. Newton and his first big-time recruit, Jamal Mashburn, with making a turnaround possible that took the Wildcats from NCAA probation to an NCAA championship.
“Without C.M. Newwton and Jamal Mashburn, I’m not sure we could have got throigh those tough times.”
Calipari said he got his own taste of the attention paid to Kentucky basketball upon his arrival in Lexington.
“When we moved here there were accidents out in front of the house on Richmond Road,” Calipari said. “People stopped and the guy behind him rammed into him because they were both looking up at this house.
“We had a person at 7:30 in the morning knock on the door to get an autograph, so now we had to put up a fence. I love these people, they’re crazy. ... They watch the tape here more than I do. It’s the greatest. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Other topics the coaches discussed during the podcast:
▪ Pitino and Calipari both recalled with reverence their days at the Five-Star basketball camps of old, where both cut their teeth as players and coaches.
▪ Pitino explained how he got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant at the University of Hawaii and how he interviewed for an assistant job with Jim Boeheim on the afternoon of his wedding.
▪ Pitino said of everyone he’s worked for, Hubie Brown was his biggest influence. “Every single day working with Hubie Brown, I felt like I was in a library just reading the greatest boosk. The stories. The practices. The tense moments of every day. He brought the best out of you or you’d be in trouble.”
▪ Calipari spoke about coaching his son, Brad. Pitino talked about what it’s like to have a son (Richard, at Minnesota) in coaching.
Calipari wrapped up the podcast with this:
“I wish you luck until we play you next year, and I hope we beat your brains in next year because that was just miserable for me walking off that court (after this season’s loss to Louisville).”