Speaking at a gathering promising “the most innovative thinkers, leaders and ideas of our time,” Kentucky Coach John Calipari credited a thinker and leader who made a great impact in his life: his late mother.
“My mother, till the day she died, thought I could run for president,” Calipari said Monday at One: The Alltech Ideas Conference.
Bolstered by that kind of unquenchable faith, Calipari was not daunted by the prospect of becoming UK coach in 2009.
“I expected it,” Calipari told an audience in Rupp Arena. “My mother put that mindset in me.”
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No doubt, Calipari’s success as Kentucky coach made him one of the speakers/advice givers at this conference. Other speakers included Alan Mulally, former president and CEO of Ford Motor Company, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Apollo 13 astronaut James Lovell (he’s speaking Tuesday on “a successful failure”) and Alltech founder and president Pearse Lyons.
In Calipari’s seven seasons as coach, Kentucky has enjoyed unprecedented success (four Final Four appearances in a five-year period for the first time in program history) and the 2012 national championship.
Lyons introduced Calipari by saying he “transformed something that didn’t need any transforming.”
Calipari touched on several familiar topics in explaining his success. Strong relationships based on trust. Servant leadership. Inspiring generosity through philanthropy.
A key is to continually look forward, he said.
“I don’t have a rearview mirror,” Calipari said. “I’m trying to read tea leaves. … My whole mindset is, ‘What is next? How do we stay ahead?’”
Social media, he said, was “vital” because of its ability to foster transparency and facilitate quick responses.
But social media cannot take the place of face-to-face human contact, Calipari said.
The UK coach explained his recruiting philosophy as a simple, direct approach: Pursue the best players, then figure out how to optimize the collection of players to its fullest.
Without mentioning Marques Bolden by name, Calipari acknowledged that Kentucky will not get every prospect it wants. Bolden committed to Duke last week.
“We get who we were supposed to get,” Calipari said. “In recruiting, you can’t take it personally.”
One of Calipari’s books, Bounce Back, got several mentions. As Lyons and Calipari settled into chairs for a question-and-answer session after the UK coach’s talk, the Alltech president called it “the best book out there.”
Dealing with setbacks required resetting the buttons in every way, Calipari said, and a positive attitude.
His mother was not the only influential woman Calipari mentioned in his appearance. He also saluted his wife.
“My wife does all the financials,” he said. “And I ask her for money. I’ll ask her for $10.”
These repeated requests can annoy, Calipari joked, and lead to a protest.
“You’re 10-dollaring me to death,” his wife will say.