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Sports in Kentucky

John Calipari era starts at Kentucky



In John Calipari, Big Blue Nation got its man. The worship service has begun.

University of Kentucky President Lee Todd got his man, too, and reminded us again about separation of church and state. Church is the other side of Euclid Avenue and is tithe-exempt from state. Whether Todd sold the university’s academic soul for a ball coach remains to be seen.

Mitch Barnhart got his man also. A hire that probably saved his job. Yet, his Billy Clyde fiasco should cost him a pay cut.

So, best coach in America Tom Izzo and the rest aside, Calipari is Poobah for University of Kentucky.

This week, points from one man’s list of wonderments.

• As new sovereign, Calipari has ambassadorial looks and bearing to satisfy deep pocket boosters and Big Blue Nation little people. Let the gossip begin.

• The sane will be heartened by Calipari’s promise of community involvement. And, that he’s already been to the NBA and back.

• His contract reminds us that UK’s umbilical cord to academia is by appearances only — share a marketing logo, colors, and NCAA compliance to avoid jeopardizing piece-of-pie cash flow from SEC football. Essentially, that’s all.

• President Todd deserves high marks for cunning and voodoo economics. His stated goal five years ago: Make UK a top 20 institution by 2020. Last week’s stated goal: “… to make Big Blue Nation happy again.”

Voodoo? Last year Todd complained about fewer dollars coming from Frankfort, then froze faculty wages and increased student tuition again. Today his ball coach is highest paid in America.

• Smoke screened again — UK general fund is not affected by athletics. But, gosh, “in hard times shouldn’t a chunk of sports largess be available to hold down academic costs?”

• Calipari had waited for a phone call two years ago, said he had dreamed of coaching Kentucky. How come UK had to pony up an extra $1.4 million to sign him?

• UK gets rid of Billy Clyde Gillispie for $6 million (pending). Memphis paid Calipari $2.3 million a year. UK gets Calipari for $31.6 million. Hardly an Alexander Hamilton Moment for Barnhart was it?

• Fans loved it when Calipari introduced himself to media as “… just a regular guy. I don’t walk on water.”

Warning. Man who says he does not walk on water probably believes God will correct it soon.

Warning. Regular Guy’s team had better win 20-plus games … next season.

• How many regular guys do you know who take home $6,500 a week (roughly), plus incentive bonuses?

• “There will be no bigger cheerleader for UK than me,” Calipari said. His contract certainly covers cheerleader transportation — two late model quality automobiles, plus mileage. And stipend for endorsing a local dealership.

• Calipari charmed with a phrase stolen from Hilary Clinton who stole it from a book of African Proverbs. “It takes a village,” he said. “I’m here to serve. I’m a gatherer.”

The village will pay and he will gather …

$400,000 base salary.

Country club membership, dues, initiation fees paid.

20 lower-level season tickets to home games.

Eight tickets for home football games.

$50,000 for a 75 per cent graduation rate of players.

Hit pause button for a moment, try and wrap your mind around logic behind: Student-athletes earn degrees and coach gets an extra 50 thousand?

If Kentucky wins SEC regular season, coach collects $50,000, and another 50 grand for winning the tournament.

When (not if ) UK advances to the NCAA Sweet 16, Calipari gets $100,000; $175,000 for a Final Four; and $375,000 for a title.

And, income from summer basketball camps using UK facilities.

Kentucky fans who love to be charmed got their man too.

Calipari showed up briefed and politically correct. After telling media he is no Grand Poobah, he cooed at Bill Keightley’swidow, then name dropped Kyle Macy, Mike Pratt, Dan Issel, Tayshaun Prince, Nazr Mohammed, Rick Pitino, Eddie Sutton, Herky Rupp (appropriately), and Joe B. Hall. Even tossed a bone to opportunist Richie Farmer.

• Spin. When a Memphis female television reporter asked Calipari about saying he had no intention of leaving Memphis for Kentucky then did … “what happened?” she asked.

He paused. Maybe sensing a Gillispie-Jeannine Edwards moment, grinned sheepishly, and began to dance. “Did I say that?” he asked.

“Yes, you did,” she replied. “I have it on tape.”

With wit and circle talk savvy of a used car salesman, Calipari made a seamless subject change to praise for broken hearts in Memphis. The easy part, he said, was taking the Kentucky job. Hard part “was leaving all the wonderful people who were so good to me in Memphis.”

• Recruiting. Dribble Drive Calipari promptly weeded out Gillispie recruits, held onto big man Danny Orton and Mr. Basketball Jon Hood. Cleared the way for 4-star prodigies committed to Memphis.

Even as he jumped his contract, Calipari encouraged recruits to keep theirs with Memphis. If you believe somebody inCalipari’s entourage hasn’t already done wink-and-nod with DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Nolan Dennis, raise your hand.

• Finally, UK fans obsessed with a Rick Pitino return can “give it a rest, Laettner!”

• Real Estate. If Gillispie’s realtor hasn’t already contacted Calipari, the new man can get his address from the Lexington newspaper and an on-line walkthrough via internet video.

Finally, Calipari said of Memphis fans: “…they were always with me win or tie.”

Nobody laughed. A tie against, say, VMI, will get him an internet message board scourging.

Welcome to University of Kentucky. Show Kentuckians what 31 million buys.

And so it goes.

You can reach Bob Watkins

at sprtsinky@aol.com

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