Former Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith defended the mega money UK will pay new coach John Calipari.
During a Thursday news conference in Detroit for the National Association of Basketball Coaches at the Final Four, a reporter noted that a university president had used the words "mind-boggling" and "eye-popping" to describe Calipari's eight-year, $31.65 million contract to be Kentucky's coach.
When asked if there was any way to defend such a contract, especially with the world economy struggling, Smith said, "Yes. It's a free market."
Each school is free to set its own priorities and act upon those priorities, Smith said. "I can tell you they love their basketball in Kentucky. It's something special."
Smith, the outgoing NABC president and head coach at Minnesota, said it helped that Kentucky made no secret of the contract. UK announced the details and made the contract available for public inspection.
"We certainly want to wish him the best," Smith said of Calipari. "I don't have any problems with it. ...
"No part of me (is) begrudging him. I'm just as happy as I can be for him."
Smith added a qualifier to his support to escalating salaries for coaches.
"As long as we keep in mind why we're in the business: to help young people, to educate young people, give them (guidance)," he said. "... Some of the most influential people in my life have been coaches (and) teachers. So I think that's the impact that coaches have. ... You can't put it in terms of monetary value."
NABC Executive Director Jim Haney noted that more than 50 percent of coaching jobs in Division I had changed hands in the last four years. So coaches understandably want to make as much money as they can when in any one position.
"It's not like John in his situation can go in and say, 'Well, I think we'll get there in seven years,'" Haney said. "He's got some realities he's going to have to deal with, just like every coach does."
Larry Gibson, the coach at Northeastern State and the incoming NABC vice president, echoed the sentiment about a free market dictating salaries.
"I don't begrudge Coach Calipari or anybody else the amount of money they make," he said. "I think it's up to those institutions."