Kentucky’s John Calipari: ‘I’m proud of these guys, I’m proud of my team’
John Calipari has agreed to terms on a long-term contract with the University of Kentucky, and will finish his career as head coach of the Wildcats, UK announced Monday evening.
On his radio show later Monday, Calipari said university officials approached him about a new contract that would allow him to finish his coaching career at UK.
“Where else would I want to go?” said Calipari, who later joked about it being referred to as a lifetime deal. “I don’t know what that means. It could be two years.”
More seriously, he added, “The faith they’ve shown in me, I appreciate it. I’ve let them know that.”
Calipari, who completed his 10th season as Kentucky head coach with Sunday’s overtime loss to Auburn in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional championship game, is currently in the midst of a contract extension he received in 2017 that was to take him through 2024. The total guaranteed compensation in that deal was to increase from $7.75 million for 2017-18 to $8 million per year thereafter.
UK did not announce terms of Calipari’s new long-term deal.
“This is a unique place,” Calipari said. “And I appreciate the opportunities I’ve had here.”
Calipari, who turned 60 on Feb. 10, has led UK to four Final Fours and a national championship in 2012.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas seemed taken aback when asked how well he thought Calipari fit the position.
“At Kentucky?!” he said. “I think he’s done an extraordinary job. There’s not been anybody that fits it better. John is one of the great coaches in the game now and of all time, I think. He’s proven that everywhere he’s been.”
Calipari is 305-71 as head coach of the Wildcats. He’s been to seven Elite Eights and nine NCAA Tournaments in 10 years after coming from Memphis and taking over a program that had missed the NCAA Tournament under head coach Billy Gillispie the season before his arrival.
Bilas suggested that it might not have been coincidental that the news of a new contract came after reports that UCLA was interested in hiring Calipari as its coach.
“I felt that was going to happen anyway,” Bilas said of Calipari finishing his coaching career at Kentucky. Then he added, “But it’s nice of UCLA to make him all that money.”
It’s not unusual for coaches to use the leverage of another possible job offer to enhance an existing contract, said Bilas, who added that he did not know if that was the case with Calipari and Kentucky.
The new contract will be Calipari’s seventh at UK. He said on the radio show that his name gets mentioned frequently in connection with open coaching jobs elsewhere.
“Let your administration sweat a little bit,” Bilas said of the leverage coaches can wield. “Because they make coaches sweat when it’s not going so well. . . . Leverage is only good when you have it. Because when the university has it, they use it.
“If Kentucky were to lose Cal, there would be a tremendous amount of uncertainty that would follow. And right now, the only uncertainty is whether it’s going to be Elite Eight or Final Four.”
News of Calipari’s lifetime contract came a day after Kentucky lost to Auburn in the Elite Eight. Some fan grumbling ensued on social media. Calipari said on his radio show that he did not pay attention to fan grumbling, but that they had a right to do so.
Calipari spoke of the standard that he sets for Kentucky.
“This thing is about being up to bat every year with a chance to win (the NCAA Tournament) . . . ,” he said. “Let’s be involved with every good player (in recruiting). But guess what? We don’t get them all.
“Being at Kentucky is like no other (place). It’s hard. But you know what? You never have to sell a ticket. You never have to create enthusiasm. You never have to get people engaged in your program. And it really matters to people.”
Herald-Leader staff writer Ben Roberts contributed to this article.