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John Calipari is now inked to be the head coach at UK through 2018-19 after a contract extension was announced Monday.
The extension is certainly an encouraging sign for many things. It shows that UK is serious about Calipari being here for the long-term (albeit, two years more long-term than originally planned). It shows the relationship between the administrative side and Calipari is a positive one. It shows trust in Calipari, trust that was not complete when he first arrived as head coach but trust that has been built over the past two years.
A stipulation must come with the announcement of the extension. The possibility of Calipari leaving exists. It’s nothing about Calipari or UK or the NBA, or anything specific. I’m not saying Calipari is likely to leave, or that we should all brace ourselves for the day he decides to bolt. It’s just that the possibility of a coach leaving exists at every single school. But, it certainly looks as though everything is in place to keep Calipari at UK through what is essentially the decade. An added two years; a constant $3.4 million for endorsements/media, rather than the declining value he had in his original contract; a $1 million bonus for retention in almost every year (curiously, there will not be one for the 15-16 season); and a guaranteed income higher than what most NBA teams can pay.
If Calipari does decide to leave, it won’t be about the money. The man has plenty of that. It will be about redeeming himself at the next level, the same level he considers the pinnacle for the very players he has at UK. His tenure at the Nets not only didn’t go well, but it was short. His coaching moves to this point have always been in a distinctly vertical direction, from UMASS to Memphis to Kentucky, and if he perceives the NBA as an even higher destination than Kentucky, that would be the only reason he would really need to go.
That being said, I have no idea if he does think that way. He is saying the opposite, that Kentucky is the place he’s been waiting his whole life to reach, and I am personally taking him at his word until proven otherwise. He certainly isn’t going anywhere this summer, not with a fantastic chance to win it all. But we have no idea how the next five years will play out; if he’s won a title by then, or is simply feeling worn down by the UK media/fan crush, or if he simply wants a change of direction because the lure of the NBA is still tugging on him, we won’t know unless it happens.
There are examples we can point to, on both sides. Pete Carrol had an unsuccessful run coaching the Patriots, dominated the college game at USC, and then split for a redemption NFL tour with the Seahawks (a decision compounded by impending violations). And while we’re on the cynical side, there are countless coaches who have pledged their loyalty to one school while simultaneously working to go somewhere else. Maybe those examples erode our trust when ANY coach confirms they aren’t going anywhere, or gets a contract extension.
On the other side, Mike Krzyzewski has long been at the forefront of open NBA jobs, and he’s still roaming the Duke sidelines. And I’m sure there are plenty of other people who turned down jobs to stay where they were.
So yes, this contract is encouraging. Mitch Barnhart and Lee Todd have seemingly given everything possible to Calipari to ensure his long-term success happens at UK. Both sides have reciprocated the desire to have Calipari remain here. But there’s nothing binding. Nothing’s ever binding in coaching.