An open letter to University of Kentucky President Lee Todd:
Re: What appears to be the impending hiring by UK of John Calipari as its men's basketball coach.
The present athletics administration at the University of Kentucky has never seemed especially adept at conducting thorough background checks on major coaching hires.
In 2002, Kentucky found itself on NCAA probation in football. Yet UK went out and hired a new football coach (Rich Brooks) without even checking to see whether that coach had a history of NCAA violations in his past (he did).
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Then, in 2007, Kentucky was seeking to fill its men's basketball head coaching position. Which only happens to be one of the most high-profile jobs in all of American sports.
In filling this vital public relations-oriented job, UK's background check failed to identify that it was offering the position to a prickly introvert (Billy Gillispie) prone to extreme mood swings.
Given the past performance, Dr. Todd, you'll forgive me for being skeptical that the background check UK will run on John Calipari will actually ask the questions that need to be raised.
So, Dr. Todd, let's address some of the questions you better have asked of Calipari before giving him the keys to our state's signature college sports program.
Question One: Who is William "Worldwide Wes" Wesley and what role does he play in Calipari's recruiting?
The short answer is that Wesley is a behind-the-scenes figure believed in recent years to have "steered" high-profile recruits Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans to Memphis.
Wesley's ties to Calipari go back to the recruitment of former Memphis star Dajuan Wagner (the son of former Louisville player Milt Wagner). Wesley was Dajuan's godfather.
"Worldwide Wes" is one of the more enigmatic figures in all of basketball. Nobody seems to know what exactly to make of him.
In June, 2006, GQ magazine ran an article on Wesley headlined "Is This The Most Powerful Man In Sports?"
He's said to be a Detroit-area mortgage broker. "Worldwide Wes" pulled Ron Artest out of the "Malice in the Palace" fight. He is also said to be tight with Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
The general consensus in basketball circles seems to be that "Worldwide Wes" uses his influence to get in with young, star basketball players for the benefit of Nike.
In GQ, Calipari is quoted as saying that "Worldwide Wes" is a "goodwill ambassador to the University of Memphis program."
Now, maybe there is nothing wrong with this relationship. Or maybe "Worldwide Wes" and his tie with Calipari are the next big recruiting scandal waiting to explode.
With your legacy at UK at stake, Dr. Todd, are you sure that's a risk worth running?
Question Two: What kind of discipline exists inside a John Calipari-run program?
You'll recall in 2002, Dr. Todd, all the local angst that was created during the Team Turmoil season.
That season, Kentucky had two players get in a fight (over a girl, apparently) on the team plane and two underage UK players get busted for trying to use fake IDs to get into a local club.
It all had the locals in a tizzy.
Well, compared to what's gone on among the players at Memphis, that kind of stuff seems quaint.
In 2005, a Memphis reserve was charged with soliciting a prostitute.
Two UM players were charged in September 2007 with inciting a riot and disorderly conduct outside a Beale Street night spot (source: ESPN.com). The charges were later dropped after the two completed an eight-week anger management program.
A Memphis player was accused in Feb., 2008, of hitting his ex-girlfriend (with an open hand) in an early-morning confrontation (source: Feb. 7, 2008, Associated Press). The charge was later dropped.
When Calipari took his team to Alabama-Birmingham after the latter incident, a fan held up a sign that read, "at UAB, we beat Memphis, not our girls."
When the Kentucky Wildcats go on the road in future seasons, Dr. Todd, are those the kind of signs you want to see?
Question Three: What exactly is the relationship between Calipari-coached players and agents?
As is well known, Calipari's 1996 Final Four team at Massachusetts was forced by the NCAA to "vacate" its tournament results because star center Marcus Camby was being paid by an agent.
Calipari's sympathizers always point out that the coach was not found personally culpable in the UMass scandal.
Which is true.
But wouldn't you think a coach who had been "victimized" by such a scenario would be especially vigilant that another such case not happen on his watch?
In a lawsuit that was filed and then quickly withdrawn in 2006, a would-be agent alleged he paid almost $50,000 (source: Nov. 21, 2006, Memphis Commercial Appeal) to former Memphis forward Shawne Williams when the star was playing college basketball.
The would-be agent was apparently (and understandably) miffed when Williams signed with a different representative when it came time to start his pro career.
After the suit was dropped, no consequences were forthcoming.
But, Dr. Todd, you might want to ask yourself if there is a pattern at work.
In fact, you might want to ask Calipari why the Memphis Commercial Appeal asked in that same Nov., 21, 2006, column why a man "with known connections to agents" was "regularly showing up at practices" during the 2005-06 Memphis season.
We'll end, Dr. Todd, with some questions you ought to be asking yourself.
Like what is the all-fire hurry in this coaching search? After Billy Donovan said no the last time, you rushed and made a colossal hiring mistake.
Now, you are flirting with hiring a coach whose background screams out for a thorough investigation, and it appears you are closing the deal in three days.
You do remember, Dr. Todd, that you are the president of the University of Kentucky? That's the Kentucky that got a one-year suspension in men's basketball in the 1950s; was on probation in football in the 1960s.
That's the Kentucky that hit the daily double of cheating by being on probation in both football and men's basketball at the same time in the 1970s. The Kentucky that had a different kind of daily double in the 1980s with not one, but two embarrassing men's basketball scandals in the decade.
Then, as the late 1990s turned into the 2000s, Kentucky got itself on probation again in football.
Back then, Dr. Todd, you talked often about being the president who was going to end UK's cycle of one major sports scandal a decade.
Is the hire you are about to make consistent with that goal?
Kentucky's choice isn't hire John Calipari or never win big again.
There are several coaches who I believe are available right now — Sean Miller; Travis Ford; maybe Thad Matta or even the best coach in the country, Tom Izzo — who are capable of winning at Kentucky at the level UK wants to win.
No, Dr. Todd, the question here is whether Kentucky is back to trying to win at all costs or whether it is going to try to win with honor.
If it's the latter, Dr. Todd, can you really hire John Calipari?