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COLUMN: John Calipari’s move to Arkansas is better for him … and Kentucky

Kentucky head coach John Calipari commands players during a timeout during the Kentucky vs. Tennessee mens’s basketball game on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2024, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky lost 103-92. Photo by Isaiah Pinto | Staff

Kentucky fans were thrown into a frenzy late Sunday night when it became clear that head coach John Calipari was set to depart Lexington to be the next head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Here’s the thing: while shocking, this move greatly benefits both parties and both Calipari and Kentucky will move forward better off than they were before.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari calls a timeout during the No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 7 Texas A&M men’s basketball match in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals on Friday, March 15, 2024, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. Kentucky lost 97-87. Photo by Samuel Colmar | Staff (Samuel Colmar)

For Calipari, the move was simple: he lost the support of Kentucky fans and the relationship had deteriorated to the point of no return.

Nothing short of a national title, with every single loss on the way there being thrown in his face, would be good enough and, many people forget this part, it’s really hard to win a national title no matter who you are.

Arkansas had the money to spend, Calipari had relationships with the Tyson family, the SEC has become an elite basketball conference and he’ll get to take all his flashy too-many-star recruits and best players with him. That’s great for the man. Major win.

Now Kentucky… also a win?

Kentucky fans made it clear after the Cats’ 2024 NCAA Tournament loss to Oakland: the vast majority have no faith in Calipari to do the job anymore. They’ll always be grateful for the success of the first decade and 2012, but enough was enough.

There were calls for “Cal” to be axed, there were fundraisers started for his buyout and athletic director Mitch Barnhart was called a coward for his decision to bring back the hall of famer for at least one more year.

Well, guess what, Cal is gone and UK didn’t have to pay him a cent.

Now, it’s easy to understand that being on the search for a new head coach for the first time in over a decade and staring down the barrel of an offseason in which, for all intents and purposes, your entire team skips town is a bit scary. But, simply put, if you didn’t have faith in him to do the job, why does this change that?

If he can’t do it here, why can he in Fayetteville?

Kentucky head coach John Calipari interactions with fans ahead of the Kentucky vs. North Carolina mens basketball game on Saturday, Sec. 16, 2023, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. Kentucky won 87-82. Photo by Isaiah Pinto | Staff (Isaiah Pinto)

He’ll have one of the largest NIL collectives in college basketball and access to the best of the best recruits! Didn’t he already have the best recruits here?

Access to a plethora of NBA talent and the best of the best was very enjoyable for Kentucky on a year to year basis but, even with it, the Cats haven’t been back to the Final Four since 2015 and only have one national title to show for it.

Not to mention the entire conversation surrounding this season of college basketball was that five-star freshmen aren’t the way to go anymore. Kentucky was evidence enough of that.

Now, there is the potential that Cal could pivot and fully embrace the transfer portal and continue to make Fayetteville one of the top transfer destinations in the nation.

That’s all fine and well, but Kentucky, under whoever will be at the helm next, can be that, too. Lexington has the infrastructure, the history and is seemingly embracing NIL in a way that ensures that whoever comes in in place of Cal will have the same opportunity.

Now, the thought of facing Arkansas, either in Lexington or Fayetteville, year one with whomever the Cats bring in against a fired up Calipari is enough to make the strongest of fans a bit nervous, but that’s simply short-sighted thinking.

It’ll be a huge game. Calipari may even win. It’ll be a stinger. The world will keep spinning.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari reacts to a foul call during the Kentucky vs. North Carolina mens basketball game on Saturday, Sec. 16, 2023, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. Kentucky won 87-82. Photo by Isaiah Pinto | Staff

In 2022 Kentucky went into Lawrence, Kansas, and obliterated the Jayhawks 80-62 on their home court. The Cats were first round exits and Kansas won the national championship. The team Kansas beat? North Carolina, which Kentucky also obliterated 98-69.

A loss, even a bad one, would mean essentially nothing for Kentucky in the grand scheme of things, and that’s not even considering the possibility that the new man in charge could lead the Cats to a win and BBN social media would explode.

Kentucky was Kentucky before John Calipari. It will be Kentucky after him too. It’s one of, if not the largest job in the sport. A dream destination for some of the best of the best in the coaching sphere. A new coach will be selected and will join a storied history of some of the greatest coaches in college basketball history.

Calipari is and always will be a Kentucky legend but his reign needed to end and it did — albeit in a different way than many expected — and now the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball will continue on toward its future. 

Change is scary, it always has been and always will be, but it isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it’s the best thing.

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Cole Parke, Sports Editor

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  • L

    Larry MorganApr 9, 2024 at 10:50 am

    UK had no sense of shame about paying Calipari $8 million/yr and thus turning UK into an NBA farm team, and of course boosting tuition to pay his bill.

  • S

    scottApr 8, 2024 at 11:30 pm

    hopefully he takes one-and-done with him as well…