Standing up for your program and athletes is commonplace for a college head coach, especially one with the pedigree of John Calipari. Coaching one of the royal bluebloods of college athletics in Lexington, with a lifetime contract no less, certainly skews his view of things from the mountaintop. A loss to St. Peter’s in the NCAA Tournament won’t tarnish the program’s or Cal’s personal reputation. The only thing stopping the momentum of Kentucky basketball would be from within. Enter the former Memphis and UMass head coach’s comments from Thursday.
In trying to get money for a new practice facility to house the one-and-done factory, Calipari called longtime UK beat writer Kyle Tucker, now scribing for The Athletic. He explained the horror behind stopping a recent offseason workout, with the season more than two months away, because the roof was leaking at the Joe Craft Center, only built 15 years ago.
Calipari eventually blurted, “This is a basketball school. It’s always been that. Alabama is a football school. So is Georgia. I mean, they are. No disrespect to our football team. I hope they win 10 games and go to bowls. At the end of the day, that makes my job easier, and it makes the job of all of us easier. But this is a basketball school. And so we need to keep moving in that direction and keep doing what we’re doing.”
Enter Wildcats’ head football coach Mark Stoops, who has turned Kentucky’s football program from irrelevant and a doormat for the Southeastern Conference — kind of what Vanderbilt is now, but worse because of potential — to a consistent winner. UK football will never be Georgia or Alabama, but they’ve separated themselves from the middle pack of the SEC and are consistently finishing only a few steps behind the conference’s elite.
It took Stoops only a few hours to post a response to Calipari. While Cal’s frustrations might’ve been mainly with Kentucky’s administration, which I assume is indirectly responsible for the roof leaking because of rain and not Poseidon himself, throwing a stray at a beloved colleague was an unneeded low blow.
And if there’s one period of Kentucky’s history where football has outperformed the Rupp Arena regals, it’s right now. Over the last four years, Wildcat football has won four bowl games and 33 overall contests, averaging out to more than eight wins per year. That’s pretty solid in the hardest football collegiate league to play in. SEC basketball is improving, but nowhere near a juggernaut. Yet, Cal’s minions have only won three NCAA Tournament games in that same span.
Will this be a big deal for a long time? No. I’d be shocked if Calipari hasn’t already placed the obligatory, “I’m sorry you read my accurately reported words” phone call. It should be water under the bridge. Yet, it could make for some fun trolling down the line.
Kentucky basketball is an iconic brand. Maintaining that image at the expense of another team within the athletic department was such a dumb thought. I don’t believe the game has passed Coach Cal by, but maybe the aura of Kentucky being just a men’s basketball school has. After all, Wildcat women’s basketball has been really good for a while. They defeated national-champion South Carolina to win the SEC Tournament. Maybe Calipari missed that bitching about other needless things.