Coach Cal's fans will need thick skin

John Clay
John Clay

Before he left for CBS Sportsline, Gary Parrish worked for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, where he spent four years covering John Calipari.

Friday morning, after Bob Knight had taken a shot at John Calipari's "integrity," Parrish offered some advice for Kentucky basketball fans.

Wrote Parrish: "Get used to it."

He's right.

This is the way it's going to be, at least for the time being. There's going to be the "Cal's a cheater" chants from opposing fans. There's going to be the innuendo, and the whispers, and the occasional on-the-record blast.

There's going to be the rush to judgment from a media crowd that made up its mind about Calipari a long time ago.

That's the crowd that, despite what the record might show, believes Cal was responsible for getting Massachusetts in trouble with Marcus Camby, that he at least knew about Derrick Rose's standardized test at Memphis, that he's too close to William Wesley, that he's too good at getting star recruits.

Thing is, Knight prides himself on being smarter than the media herd he so often chastises. But turns out he is still what he's always been, a bully. Only now he's a washed-up bully.

Before a rapt audience Thursday night, Knight tried to make it sound as though he was the one too good for the game, when actually the game's grown too good for him. The days of coaches abusively treating players and fans and administrators is coming to a close. Ask Mark Mangino, the former football coach at Kansas. He, too, has some time on his hands.

Remember, we're talking about a coach who once put a feminine hygiene product into a player's locker to show the player he wasn't tough enough.

And he's talking about integrity of the game?

That "I'm clean" claim is Knight's tired old defense for his inexcusable acts. And if you beat Bob, you must be a cheater. What other answer could there be? Didn't matter whether it was Joe B. Hall, or Lou Henson, or Denny Crum, or Bill Frieder. Bob has always painted with a broad brush.

But imagine the tables are turned, and it is John Calipari who is out of coaching and says, "We've gotten into this situation where self-control is really lacking, and that's why I'm glad I'm not coaching. You see, we've got a coach at (Indiana/Texas Tech) who throws chairs, puts his hands on his players, berates administrators, and he's still coaching. I really don't understand that."

Here's another question: Why hasn't Knight said the same thing on ESPN? He was in New York for the SEC/Big East Challenge; he could have easily made his views on Calipari known to a national audience. Instead, he saved it for an Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame fund-raiser, five days after the Cats beat the Hoosiers in Assembly Hall.

Who's the calculated one?

Not long after he got the Kentucky job, Calipari sat down for interviews with the local media. In the one I attended, he said, "Not everyone is going to like me."

If he's your coach, you thought Friday's response of respectful disagreement was Calipari taking the high road. If he's not your coach, you thought the "I get up to go to mass this morning, and there's like 100 text messages," was Cal being too slick.

Mike Schmidt once said he hated Pete Rose when Charlie Hustle was playing for the Reds. But when Rose came to the Phillies, Schmidt found that he loved him as a teammate.

Kentucky fans love their Coach Cal. He's been perfect for the job. He's embraced the fans, the history, the tradition. He's brought in amazing players. He has won his first 10 games. His team full of first-year players is ranked third in the nation. There is nothing to complain about.

So, heed Parrish's warning, let the others complain, and shrug it off.

Remember, last time out, Kentucky hired a coach who idolized Bob Knight.

And you saw what happened then.

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