UK Men's Basketball

Ten Years of Coach Cal: ‘Kentucky isn’t for everyone.’

John Calipari: This is what happens when you get older

At his press conference on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari joked about getting older. The Wildcats play host to winless Monmouth on Wednesday at Rupp Arena in Lexington. Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m.
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At his press conference on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari joked about getting older. The Wildcats play host to winless Monmouth on Wednesday at Rupp Arena in Lexington. Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m.

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Ten Years of Coach Cal

John Calipari’s first 10 years as head coach at the University of Kentucky were jam packed with memories. As Coach Cal embarks on his second decade under a newly signed “lifetime contract,” the Herald-Leader Sports staff voted on and ranked the biggest moments, best players, toughest losses, top recruits and more from the past 10 years and created this 12-part series.

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When Kentucky basketball is at its best it has swagger.

It’s not enough merely to win in Lexington. Fans of the winningest program in the history of college basketball demand style with that habitual substance.

Championships. On-court domination. Off-court class. Cutting-edge recruiting. National pride.

What might that be called?

A gold standard, perhaps?

This week, the Herald-Leader launches a summer series looking back on John Calipari’s first 10 years as head coach at the University of Kentucky. A month after the now 60-year-old Calipari signed up for the next 10 years — and possibly more — with a new $86 million “lifetime contract,” a remembrance of how we got from there to here seems fitting.

“There” was April 1, 2009 — the day Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart introduced John Vincent Calipari to succeed Billy Gillispie as head coach of the Cats.

Barnhart and then-UK president Lee T. Todd Jr. expressed confidence they knew what they were getting in Calipari — including a controversial past they vetted with the NCAA’s compliance staff — and they knew they wanted all of it.

After the two-year Gillispie experiment-gone-wrong, UK officials wanted a man big enough for the job. They needed not only a basketball coach but a culture change.

“I do not walk on water,” Calipari told the audience in the Joe Craft Center that day. “I do not have a magic wand. I’m day to day.”

Ten years later, many in Big Blue Nation would disagree. Three hundred and five victories. Four Final Four appearances. Five Southeastern Conference regular-season championships. Six SEC Tournament titles. And, of course, the 2012 national championship. That’s the on-court proof.

But the swagger, that big-enough-for-the-job demand that lots of coaches never embrace; that’s where Calipari delivered.

Love Cal, hate Cal, Kentucky is perennially at the center of the national college basketball discussion. For Wildcats fans, it’s a satisfying and not-as-easy-as-it-looks position to uphold that the UK coach has mastered through forming his own media empire, adopting a players-first recruiting strategy, creating a pipeline for those players to the pros — 38 during his time at UK and counting — and, mostly, putting himself out there.

“This is a hard job and a hard life,” a prescient Calipari said on the day of his hiring. “It’s a challenge I am so excited about taking on.”

Be it public appearances, charitable efforts — remember Hoops for Haiti and the UK Alumni Charity Games? — or providing fans a glimpse into his home life, Calipari has spent 10 years giving the people what they want.

Of course, a couple more national championships would be nice.

This is Kentucky, after all.

If the Hall of Fame coach didn’t want that type of pressure, he never would have signed up for it.

As Calipari has become so fond of saying:

“Kentucky isn’t for everyone.”

About this series

A vote by the Herald-Leader Sports staff has generated lists of the most thrilling wins, the biggest shots, the top individual performances and the best players of the Calipari era, along with the toughest losses and the biggest disappointments. We also ranked each of Calipari’s 10 teams, re-visited some of his biggest recruiting hits and misses and recalled the most indelible Cal memories of the past decade.

We hope you’ll have as much fun tapping into your Big Blue memories as we did compiling these lists as you read them in the coming days on Kentucky.com and in the Herald-Leader.

Cliff Hagan with Rupp, Ramsey & Lou T
Coach Adolph Rupp, shown here with Cliff Hagan, left, and fellow UK stars Lou Tsioropoulos (16) and Frank Ramsey (30), won half of UK’s eight national titles. John Wyatt Associated Press

UK champions

Kentucky’s national championship-winning men’s basketball coaches:

ADOLPH RUPP

Years coaching UK: 1931-72.

Record at UK: 876-190.

National championships at UK: Four (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958).

Final Fours at UK: Six (1942, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1966).

NCAA Tournament appearances at UK: 20.

What he did before coaching at UK: Played basketball at the University of Kansas, winning two national championships as a reserve. Coached at Freeport High School in Freeport, Illinois.

What he did after coaching at UK: Worked in the front offices of the Memphis Tams and Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association.

Career coaching record: 876-190.

Hometown: Halstead, Kansas.

Alma mater: University of Kansas.

Born: Sept. 2, 1901.

Died: Dec. 10, 1977.

JOE B. HALL

Years coaching UK: 1972-1985.

Record at UK: 297-100.

National championships at UK: One (1978).

Final Fours at UK: Three (1975, 1978, 1984).

NCAA Tournament appearances at UK: 10.

What he did before coaching at UK: Played basketball for Kentucky and the University of the South (Sewanee). Coached at Central Missouri State before coming to Kentucky as an assistant under Rupp, a position he held from 1965-1972.

What he did after coaching at UK: Hosted a radio show in Lexington called “The Joe B. and Denny Show,” with former Louisville coach Denny Crum.

Career coaching record: 373-156.

Hometown: Cynthiana, Kentucky.

Alma mater: University of the South (Sewanee).

Born: Nov. 30, 1928

RICK PITINO

Years coaching UK: 1989-1997.

Record at UK: 219-50.

National championships at UK: One (1996).

Final Fours at UK: Three (1993, 1996, 1997).

NCAA Tournament appearances at UK: Six (1992-97).

What he did before coaching at UK: Played basketball at UMass, coached at Boston University and Providence at the college level and with the New York Knicks in the NBA.

What he did after coaching at UK: Coached the Boston Celtics before going to the University of Louisville where he went to the Final Four twice and won the 2013 NCAA championship which was later vacated due to NCAA violations. Most recently coached Panathinaikos of the Euroleague.

Career college coaching record: 647-268 (An additional 123 wins and three losses were vacated by the NCAA due to rules violations.).

Hometown: New York.

Alma mater: UMass.

Born: Sept. 18, 1952.

TUBBY SMITH

Years coaching UK: 1997-2007.

Record at UK: 263-83.

National championships at UK: One (1998).

Final Fours at UK: One (1998).

NCAA Tournament appearances at UK: 10.

What he did before coaching at UK: Played basketball at High Point University. Coached at Tulsa and Georgia.

What he did after coaching at UK: Coached at Minnesota, Texas Tech and Memphis before taking over his alma mater, High Point.

Career coaching record: 613-317.

Hometown: Scotland, Maryland.

Alma mater: High Point.

Born: June 30, 1951.

JOHN CALIPARI

Years coaching UK: 2009- present.

Record at UK: 305-71

National championships at UK: One (2012).

Final Fours at UK: Four (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015).

NCAA Tournament appearances at UK: Nine.

What he did before coaching at UK: Played basketball at North Carolina-Wilmington and Clarion. Coached at UMass and Memphis at the college level and the New Jersey Nets of the NBA.

Career college coaching record: 708-209 (An additional 42 wins and two losses were vacated by the NCAA due to rules violations.).

Hometown: Moon Township, Pennsylvania.

Alma mater: Clarion.

Born: Feb. 10, 1959.

— Coaches’ bios compiled by Matt Stahl

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