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OFFICIAL: John Calipari steps down as Kentucky head coach, deal with Arkansas to be announced

Samuel Colmar
Kentucky head coach John Calipari speaks with a referee during the Kentucky vs Vanderbilt mens basketball game on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee. Kentucky won 109-77. Photo by Samuel Colmar | Staff

It’s official, John Calipari has stepped down as Kentucky’s head coach and is expected to become the next head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Calipari made an announcement on social media with a video message to Kentucky fans, saying it was “time for (the program) to hear a different voice” and saying Kentucky “was (his) dream job.”

“Cal” made the decision to leave Lexington after 15 seasons with the Wildcats after facing intense pressure and scrutiny from fans after years of postseason failure.

Mitch Barnhart made an official statement himself on social media as well, expressing gratitude to Calipari for years of service and announcing that the search for a new head coach had begun.

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari reacts to a call during the No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 1 North Carolina mens basketball game in the NCAA Tournament Elite 8 on Sunday, March 26, 2017, at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. North Carolina won 75-73. Photo by Addison Coffey | Kentucky Kernel (Addison Coffey)

After creating the “gold standard” from 2009-2019, a period of time when Kentucky was seemingly on top of the world, Calipari had failed to lead the Cats out of the first weekend, missing the 2021 NCAA Tournament altogether — 2020’s event was canceled — being stunned by No. 15 Saint Peter’s in the first round in 2022, losing in the second round to Kansas State in 2023 and, most recently, losing to Oakland in the first round in 2023.

Calipari came to Lexington after successful stints with UMass and Memphis, leading both schools to the Final Four, and a not-so successful stint in the NBA and immediately brought joy to a fanbase that had struggled with the latter years of Tubby Smith’s reign and two lackluster years with Billy Gillispie.

@kykernel Kentucky men’s basketball head coach John Calipari is finalizing a five-year deal to become the next head coach of the Arkansas men’s basketball team. We went around the University of Kentucky’s campus and asked students for their reaction. Here’s what they had to say. #kentuckykernel #universityofkentucky #kentucky #brycetowle #johncalipari #calipari #coachcal #cal #coachjohncalipari #ukmensbasketball #basketball #collegebasketball #sec #secbasketball #arkansas #arkansasrazorbacks #razorbacks #johncalipariarkansas #calipariarkansas #ukbasketball ♬ original sound – Kentucky Kernel

Getting back to the Elite Eight in 2010 with John Wall, Cal finally won “the big one” in 2012, delivering Lexington its eighth national championship.

He would continue to bring in top recruiting classes and stars, entering the 2015 Final Four a perfect 38-0 — on the cusp of true immortality — before being stunned by Wisconsin.

While UK has yet to make it back to the final weekend since, Kentucky was still within the upper echelon of college basketball from 2016-19, seemingly just missing out on numerous occasions.

Despite that, with the disasters that have been the 2020s, many fans were ready to part with Calipari, something that seemed nigh impossible due to his $33 million dollar buyout.

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari yells to his team during the No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 15 Northern Kentucky mens basketball game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 17, 2017, at Baker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Kentucky won 79-70. Photo by Hunter Mitchell | Kentucky Kernel (Hunter Mitchell)

Kentucky athletic director Barnhart would confirm that the school would not be paying that buyout and Calipari would be returning for a 16th season, but that all changed when the hall of fame coach opted to take the job in Fayetteville, forfeiting any money remaining in his Kentucky contract and negating the buyout.

News exploded on Sunday night with confirmation finally coming near midnight courtesy of ESPN’s Jeff Borzello and Pete Thamel, the latter of whom confirmed a deal would be finalized in the next 24 hours.

With the new era being ushered in — albeit against Barnhart’s will — Kentucky has yet to announce Calipari’s successor.

News surrounding a new head coach and decisions with Kentucky basketball’s class of 2024 commits and current rostered players will likely be made public in the coming days and weeks.

The Kentucky Kernel will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available.

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About the Contributors
Cole Parke, Sports Editor
Samuel Colmar, Assistant Photo Editor

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