John Clay

How John Calipari’s job performance compares to his elite contemporaries

Calipari says 2019 will be a breakout year for returning players

Kentucky men's basketball head coach John Calipari responds to the return of Ashton Hagans, Nick Richards, and EJ Montgomery to the team.
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Kentucky men's basketball head coach John Calipari responds to the return of Ashton Hagans, Nick Richards, and EJ Montgomery to the team.

It’s too much money, of course. But he’s worth it.

In the Monopoly money landscape of today’s college athletics, John Calipari’s new 10-year, $86 million contract is barely worth batting an eye over. As a kicker, the Kentucky basketball coach can retire after six years, become an advisor and still cash a hefty paycheck. It’s part of the deal.

Wait a minute. Calipari has won (only) one national title at Kentucky, you say. So did Tubby Smith, Rick Pitino and Joe B. Hall. They didn’t get cushy retirement plans.

True. But don’t judge Cal’s worth by his predecessors. Compare his job performance to his contemporaries.

For the sake of this discussion, here’s an Elite Eight — Calipari, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Kansas’ Bill Self, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, Villanova’s Jay Wright, Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Virginia’s Tony Bennett. Each has coached at his current school the past 10 years. Krzyzewski (2), Calipari, Williams, Wright (2) and Bennett have won titles during that time. Self and Izzo have been to multiple Final Fours. Few played for a national title.

Now let’s take a deeper dive into the decade numbers, coach-by-coach:

Calipari: The Cats are 305-71 so far during Cal’s stay in Lexington. They earned a dizzying four Final Fours in a five-year span (2011-15). Haven’t been back since. Won the national title in 2012. Relegated to the NIT in 2013, but they have at least one Big Dance win in each of the other nine years. NCAA Tournament wins: 31.

Krzyzewski: Coach K is 299-70 the last 10 years. Captured titles in 2010 and 2015, bringing his total to five overall. Those were his only two Final Four trips, however. Duke has been to the NCAA Tournament each of the last 10 years, but the Blue Devils were twice bounced in the first round. Like UK, the Devils haven’t been to the Final Four since 2015. NCAA Tournament wins: 26.

Williams: The Tar Heels are 277-96 the past decade. Ol’ Roy had to settle for the NIT in 2010, but he has been to the Big Dance each year since. The Heels lost the title game to Villanova in 2016, but they beat Gonzaga in 2017 for Williams’ third national championship. He has two other Elite Eights over the past 10 years. No first-round knockouts. NCAA Tournament wins: 24.

Self: The Jayhawks are 304-66 over the last 10 years. They’ve been to two Final Fours, losing in the 2012 national title game to UK and falling to Villanova in the 2018 semifinals. There are no first-round knockouts on Self’s decade dance card, but four times Kansas failed to advance to the Sweet 16. NCAA Tournament wins: 24.

Izzo: Michigan State is 270-95 over the last 10 years. No national tiles, but the Spartans have been to three Final Fours, including this past season. Izzo’s club was eliminated in the national semifinals each of those years. And Sparty has two first-round NCAA losses over the last 10. NCAA Tournament wins: 21.

Few: Gonzaga is 304-56 since 2009-10. Yes, the Bulldogs are not in a major conference. And they have reached just one Final Four, the 2017 title loss to North Carolina. But they have won at least one NCAA Tournament game each of the last 10 years, and they have at least two wins each of the last five. NCAA Tournament wins: 20.

Wright: The Wildcats are 270-84 the past decade. Not long ago, Villanova was a tournament underachiever. From 2010 through 2015, they won a total of three NCAA games. Failed to reach the tourney in 2012. Then the Wildcats won the 2016 national title. They cut down the nets again in 2018. Boom or bust. NCAA Tournament wins: 17.

Bennett: The Cavaliers are 254-89 over the past decade. And it wasn’t like Bennett took over a national power. He didn’t get his NCAA tourney win at Virginia until 2014. In 2018, the Wahoos infamously became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed. The following April — this past April — they won the national title. Bennett’s arrow is definitely pointing up. NCAA Tournament wins: 13.

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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.

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