Coach Cal Slithers Back Into Memphis & Here’s 5 Reasons Why It’s Still Perfectly Reasonable to Hate Him

Let me be clear: I don’t like John Calipari.  Include me in the Sons of Anarchy-style gang of Cal-haters that gouged the eyes out of the Coach Cal promo hand paddle fans and cursed his name up and down the Mississippi River.  Now, as that cruel mistress fate would have it, the not-so-prodigal son is returning (don’t steal my headline, Commercial Appeal).  John Vincent Calipari is set to return to the FedEx Forum in Memphis for UK’s Sweet Sixteen matchup with UCLA.  But where do Memphis fans stand on this eight years later?

The #MemphisMedia has managed to bring this story line back to the forefront of the city’s sports discussions, and it’s got me thinking again: do Memphis fans still generally dislike Cal (YES) and, even more importantly, is that hate justifiable or at all reasonable (DOUBLE YES)?  Buckle up, motherfuckers.


(1)     “Can’t you just appreciate the things he did for your program during the time he was there?”  Hold up there, cowboy.  Memphis fans can and, in fact, DO appreciate the whopping success we enjoyed during Cal’s tenure.  But appreciating Cal’s contribution to our program and acknowledging the numerous missteps and manner of Cal’s decision to leave are not mutually exclusive.  No doubt, John Calipari put Memphis Basketball back in the spotlight on the national stage, but he did not build the brand from scratch.  Need I remind you that the Tigers had appeared in two Final Fours and one Championship before Cal walked through the door.  Just because Dom Toretto was faithful to the gang through seven Fast and Furious movies doesn’t make his apparent betrayal in the upcoming Fate of the Furious all the more heart-wrenching.

(2)     “But it’s KENTUCKY, maybe the best college basketball job in the COUNTRY.  He’d be an idiot not to accept it!”  Right, Kentucky is historically a better job than Memphis.  But hear me out, kemosabe.  To quantify a job’s worth, I think we should look deeper than others’ past performance in that role.  INTRODUCING: the CHIEF’s non-exhaustive factors for how desirable a job is: (a) MONEY.  Anyone that says this isn’t a large (if not the largest) part of their analysis in considering a new job is lying to themselves; (b) PRESTIGE.  Is there a real/tangible status upgrade associated with the new job?;(c) IMPROVED LIKELIHOOD OF SUCCESS.  Is it easier to handle your shit as well or better than you’ve already handled it?;  (d)  ROOM FOR GROWTH OR EXPANSION.  How bout those #synergy words?  If you can’t move up, you’d better move out; (e) LEGACY.  How will your job define you in the future, even after you’re gone?; and (f) LOCATION.  Where you want/don’t want to live heavily factors into a job decision.  Now let’s apply them to Cal’s decision to leave Memphis for Kentucky in 2009:

MONEY — In addition to matching UK’s offer, Memphis AD at the time, R.C. Johnson, opened the checkbook and literally asked Coach Cal how much money he wanted to stay at Memphis and his reply was, “You don’t have to give me anymore. It’s Kentucky.”  That means Cal had a blank check, thereby making Memphis the higher-paying gig.  Advantage: Memphis.

PRESTIGE — UK is more prestigious in the college basketball hierarchy, I won’t argue that.  But isn’t the stress involved with the Kentucky job’s prestige somewhat of a negative factor?  Advantage: Kentucky.

IMPROVED LIKELIHOOD OF SUCCESS — As discussed more prominently in the recruiting paragraph below, I’d argue that he’d get the same 5-star players at Memphis that he has at UK.  Further, the SEC, while a Power 5, has never been considered a “basketball conference,” so his increased chances for better tournament seeding may not really be the case, especially in light of the fact he’s coming of four seasons of #1 or #2 seedings at Memphis, even in the admittedly shitty C-USA.  Hell, I’d even argue that the amount of games he’d win in C-USA (likely 30+) would consistently keep him top-seeded.  He also played at an NBA stadium and had a top 25 practice facility.  Memphis’s teams charted private planes and stayed at the famous Peabody Hotel on nights before home games.  Memphis basketball operates and conducts itself like a blue-blood program.  I’m not sure anyone can say his success at UK was BECAUSE of UK.  Advantage: Tie (too speculative).

ROOM FOR GROWTH AND EXPANSION & LEGACY — I’m putting these together because they’re related.  Cal had a unique opportunity on his hands with Memphis, especially in considered in tandem with other greats at the time.  Coaches like Billy Donovan at Florida and even Coach K at Duke had created basketball powerhouses.  Those coaches literally define their respective programs.  Because of one guy, Duke is now a household college basketball name.  Billy D had also just won back to back titles and made Florida a name to fear for reasons other than jorts.  Cal had an opportunity to do the same for Memphis, grow and expand his personal/Memphis’s brand to revolutionary degrees, and cement his legacy by taking a B program to A+.  I don’t think Zuckerberg abandons the fledgling Facebook to take over the thriving MySpace.   Advantage: Memphis.

LOCATION — I’ve been to Lexington, KY, and no one outside of Adolph Rupp’s offspring can reasonably argue that Lexington is better than Memphis.  Advantage: Memphis.

In this incredibly biased article, Memphis wins.  Honestly though, I don’t understand why we get caught up on the historical successes that others have had at a particular program in evaluating current status.  If Cal never goes to UK, would Malik Monk even know that Kentucky was ever a powerhouse if he was barely alive when UK won its last pre-Cal title? (hilariously won by current Memphis Head Coach, Tubby Smith).  I don’t think so.  I think the “better job” story line is oversold and under-supported.

(3)     “He can’t recruit at Memphis like he does at Kentucky.”  Slightly related to how good the jobs are, this statement ignores two salient facts.  First, Cal recruited numerous blue-chip players, particularly from the Northeast, to Memphis.  Players including Derrick Rose, Shawne Williams, Darius Washington, DaJuan Wagner, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson, Robert Dozier, Tyreke Evans, and Joey Dorsey flocked to Cal’s electric style of play — it wasn’t the conference, it wasn’t the facilities (though the FedEx Forum and Finch Center are Top 25 caliber), it wasn’t the University itself, it was Cal and his promised road to the NBA.  He’s a salesman — a damn good one, too.  If “coffee’s for closers,” Cal must mainline straight espresso every morning.  Second, Cal had a stellar recruiting class at Memphis already on deck for 2009.  Let’s take some inventory.  Already signed: DeMarcus Cousins and Xavier Henry.  All but signed: John Wall and Eric Bledsoe.  In actuality, because Xavier Henry ultimately flipped to Kansas, HIS CLASS AT 09-10 MEMPHIS WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER THAN HIS 09-10 KENTUCKY TEAM.  There was literally nothing at Memphis stopping him from dominating the recruiting trail because he clearly already dominated the recruiting trail.  Dwight Schrute crushed the paper business despite his employer, because he’s Dwight fuckin’ Schrute and he has 9 and 3 quarters horses!  To make this statement about recruiting disparity is both speculative and ignores historical data.

You’re over halfway there.  Have another silly Cal gif:


(4)     “The NCAA bringing the hammer down and vacating the wins had nothing to do with it.”   No one actually says this, but my following rebuttal is a point worth making.  There’s so many bizarre elements to the way the 2009 Tigers performed in the NCAA tournament.  This is ridiculously speculative, but I, along with many others, believe that Cal was well aware he was going to abscond for UK and intentionally sabotaged us in the Sweet Sixteen so he could make the job switch sooner.  Many of you have heard the tales passed down from the drunken bards at Double Deuce and Senses such that it has become a part of Memphis Basketball lore — Cal knowingly allowed the boys to party the night before they faced Kim English’s Mizzou team.  The only guy who allegedly doesn’t drink?  Tyreke Evans — who’d have thought he was a teetotaler?  ‘Reke goes for 33 on 12/25 shots.  The rest of the team looked like they had dropped some “Jeffrey” the night before and stroked the furry wall until the sun came up.  Less speculative, the NCAA was breathing down Cal’s neck.  They had issued a letter of investigation regarding Derrick Rose’s SAT scores to the University in the weeks leading up to his announcement that he’s heading for Kentucky.  As Geoff Calkins eloquently worded it, “the sheriff was knocking at the front door and Cal slipped out the back.”  Leaving the program knowing it’s about to be left in regulatory shambles does not help Cal’s case for fan sympathy.  I think he never leaves that year if the NCAA doesn’t come a-knockin’.

(5)    “All coaches say they love their job and would never leave for a ‘better’ program.”   You’re out of your element, Donnie.  This is simply not true.  We don’t have to look any further than Memphis’s recently departed football coach, Justin Fuente, who left for Virginia Tech and is decidedly not-hated by Memphis fans.  How’d he do it?  Honesty, my dear Watson.  The Golden Rule.  With rumors swirling about Fuente bolting for the VA Tech job, he was asked about his numerous job prospects.  His answer?  “It’s really not that difficult for me because I don’t have time for anything else other than preparing my team for these big games that continue to come up week after week,” he said. “I’m pretty insulated from the outside world, quite honestly, on a day-to-day basis. It’s easy for me to block all that out and focus on the task at hand.”  If anything, the appreciation for Fuente represents how logical Memphis’s fanbase is.  He took our abysmal program, shaped it up, and left it in better shape than it was before, all while maintaining Eagle Scout levels of up-front honestly throughout.  Guess what, we now wish him nothing but the best.  Exacerbating the situation was the degree of Cal’s faked loyalty.

Money quote at 5:19.  When asked point-blank about Kentucky’s open position, Cal says, “no, nah, you know, I want to be here.  This is where I want to coach.  My name will be tied to every job that’s open.  I think our fans have gotten used to it.”  Reactionary word vomit in the form of false promises.

I know what you’re thinking.  I’m a little butthurt, yes.  But don’t get it twisted.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t have made the same decision if I stood in Cal’s Italian leather shoes.  I do, however, know I would’ve handled it differently and also wanted to point out that it wasn’t as much of an open-and-shut decision as it’s often portrayed.  All of these “objective” sports media writers that tout the high road must forget what it’s like to be an actual fan, despite the fact that fans doing fan things literally creates the need for their jobs.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to cuddle with my personalized Anthony Davis Memphis jersey (ah… what could have been) and 2008 National Championship DVD (on which I only watch the UCLA Final Four game).  Oh my God, Memphis Basketball fans are now basically Vols football fans pining for ’98.

{banner image from The Big Lead}

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