Tuck: John Calipari’s Redemption And Recognition

He is coaching in his 4th Final Four.  He’s lost the previous three to the eventual champ.  His UMass team lost to Kentucky (Rick Pitino), his Memphis team lost to Kansas (Bill Self), and his Kentucky team lost to UConn (Jim Calhoun).

He is one of only four coaches in NCAA Division I history to direct two different schools to a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. The others are North Carolina coach Roy Williams, Kansas coach Bill Self, and Louisville coach Rick Pitino.  And Calipari has done it three times.

Through 17 collegiate seasons, only Williams has won more games than Calipari.  He won 38 games in a season at Memphis, which was an NCAA record, before the Tigers were forced to vacate those wins due to violations.  He is the second winningest coach in UMass history.  He is the winningest coach in Memphis history.  He is 100-14 in three years at Kentucky with an Elite 8, and two Finals Fours.  He is 503-152 for his career with 14 regular season conference titles.

He was the A-10 coach of the year three times.  He was the Conference USA coach of the year three times.  He’s been the SEC coach of the year twice.

All that, and yet somehow he has the rep as a great recruiter, not a great coach and someone who will get your program in trouble.  He has never been disciplined by the NCAA, but we have witnessed both UMass and Memphis forced to vacate wins after he has left.  Bobby Knight has falsely accused Coach Cal of cheating, apologized, but still today won’t reference him or the Kentucky Wildcats by name.

Two more wins won’t erase existing perceptions of Calipari, but it should go a long way in redeeming him and earning him the proper recognition he’s been deserving of for years.

And what a way to do it, if he and his Cats can.  First, Louisville and Rick Pitino.  Talk about killing two birds with one stone.  Beat your in-state rival with the stakes at their highest, and beat the man who once beat you in a Final Four and once coached at Kentucky.  Then, you potentially could beat Kansas, the school and coach Bill Self, who basically stole a title from you in an overtime win where Memphis missed free throws before Mario Chalmers became Super Mario with a three to send the game into OT.

This tournament he just missed UConn and Calhoun, who bowed out in the first round to Iowa State, and will miss North Carolina and Roy Williams who lost Kendall Marshall and their Elite 8 game.  But even if it’s Ohio State in the title game, Coach Cal can erase a lot of ill will, and earn the praise who so badly deserves as a wildly successful coach.