Reading Jon Scott's piece about the history between UK and Transy got me to letting creativity flow. And like the last 2-3 years, I wanted to come up with something over the top before the season started. So without further adieu, I give you the interview that every Cats fan wants to read and would give up a couple of games worth of their season tickets to see. The setting is the year 2050, and in the hereafter, Cawood Ledford has finally gotten Coach Adolph Rupp and Coach John Calipari to sit down and have a conversation with him about their time as the Head Coach of the University of Kentucky. The two discuss everything from players to boosters to fans and more.
And the two did not disappoint.
"Hello everybody, this is Cawood Ledford, coming to you live, or as live as things get up here, with former UK Coaches Adolph Rupp and John Calipari seated from left to right on your radio dial. Gentlemen, welcome to what I hope will be the first in a long line of these interviews, as folks both here and back home in Lexington really get a charge out of hearing stories about the old days, and reliving several of the Cats 16 Championships, most of which the two of you were involved in, in one way or another."
"My first question has to go out to Coach Rupp, and it comes from one of the multitude of fans who became one of the members of my profession, worked for you for quite a while Coach Calipari, then went on to have his own program on KSTV, Cats Claws, Ken Howlett. Ken asks, Coach Rupp, Why was the transition from the 50's to the 60's to the 70's so difficult for you and the Cats?"
Coach Rupp: Well Cawood, I tell you, we were all about the local boys back in the 1950's. The school wanted it, I wanted it, and the fans really wanted it. I wanted the best team I could get on the court, and back in the 40's and 50's I could get most of those boys right here at home, or at least not too far away. We had some pretty decent teams back then, at least I thought so, and we had some boys that worked real hard, but just couldn't win quite as much as others. But I tell you I was proud of all my boys that ever played for me. I had to coach some of them harder than others, but I thought real highly of them all. When the 60's and 70's came around, I was not going to do what some others would do in some places far away from Lexington. There were people allowing players to be paid and a lot of other things that I just didn't cotton to. I had my fill of problems early on in our success at Kentucky, and I never wanted to see that happen again. Oh, we had some boys that needed a little pocket money in those days, but it was nothing compared to what some folks were letting go on with their players and looking the other way. There were other things as well, as some folks in Lexington didn't want to see those boys of color that we were trying to get to come play. It was even dangerous at times for them. But we did the best we could with the boys we had, and I have no complaints. All my boys gave 100% when they were at Kentucky, and that's something I am very proud of.
"Coach Calipari, how was it different when you were at Kentucky? You spent 15 years in Lexington, longer than you planned, but you did put 6 more banners in Rupp during your time there. What were the things you faced?"
Coach Calipari: Wow, first off Cawood, let me say that it is amazing to finally get to sit down with you. I have been here quite a few years now, and this is the first time I think that we have gotten a chance to talk. Sitting here with you and Coach Rupp is something that I am just overwhelmed by. When I was at Kentucky, I tried to make it all about the kids. It was a little different than in Coach Rupp's day, but not completely. We still had to face the same challenges. They may have been labeled differently, but it was still a lot of agents, parents who wanted nothing but the best for their kids, and the fans at Kentucky, whoa! I tell you they are crazy! Coach Rupp, you started something really big when you were there, and by the time I arrived, they had just gone nuts!.
Coach Rupp: Well John I tell you, I was always considered to be sort of well, tough with my boys, but it was because I loved them and wanted the very best for them. I think that is what the folks in Kentucky wanted, and I tried my best to give it to them, and it just kinda took.
Coach Calipari: Cawood, we had to change a mindset when we got to Lexington. Kentucky was always a winner, no doubt about that, but the times had changed in the 10 years or so since they had won their last NCAA Championship. Back then, when the NCAA was still in place, there were a lot of people standing around, everywhere you turned, it was compliance this and compliance that. And I don't mean to speak ill of those folks, they were just doing their job, but the NCAA put us under a microscope, and we had to learn to deal with it. So I decided right away, that since I was at Kentucky, which was such a strong brand, thanks to the efforts of people like Coach Rupp, that I was going to turn Kentucky into the greatest player's school out there. We were going to make sure they went to class, make sure they behaved the way they were supposed to, and in return, I would do anything and everything I could to give them the best opportunity I could to win NCAA Championships and get to the pros., which, by the time I came along, was what was at the front of every decision these kids were making. The experts said it would never work, because we had so many Freshmen the first three years, but after the NBA wised up and realized that a strong college system was their very best farm system and they passed that 2 year rule, things kind of settled down. And it really put us over the top as well, because before that, we had only won it all once. Afterwards, well, you know, we came up one basket short the next year, then we got those three in a row. That kind of settled it for us.
Cawood: Gentlemen, this question is for both of you, because it applies to both your careers. Coach Calipari, you mentioned the NCAA earlier, and Coach Rupp you had your dealings with them as well, and so did other UK Coaches along the way. What did both of you come away with after your players had such issues with the NCAA? And was it the wrong thing to do when it was disbanded in 2020 byt most of the big schools that made up it's membership?
Coach Calipari: I'll let Coach Rupp go first.
Coach Rupp: Thank you, John. Cawood, I tell you, I never really had that much of a problem with 'em until they decided to punish all the rest of my boys for something that just a couple of them did. And we warned those boys too. We told them that there were people out there who would try to take advantage of them, and I treid to make sure they came to me with any problems that they had. But I guess a combination of the money they were promised, and being afraid that I would be upset with them, which was true, made it difficult for them to be honest with me until it was too late. It was the biggest regret of my life that those boys did that, and even though I had nothing to do with it, I wanted them to feel like I was there for them if they needed me. I wanted all my boys to feel that way. from the very first player I coached to the very last, I had a very simple approach to them playing at the University of Kentucky. Give me your best, give it to me every day, and I will do the same in return. I would have done anything I could to keep those boys out of trouble, if I could. As far as the NCAA goes, I think they knew when they did it that the penalty was wrong, but I guess they felt like they didn't have a choice.
Cawood: Coach Calipari?
Coach Calipari: Cawood, I was called "dirty" all of my coaching career by people who knew less than a little about what was truly going on. I followed the NCAA's rules to the letter. And I mean to the letter. And I worked hard to make sure that I used every tool at my disposal to make sure of that. The "creative" things we did were all perfectly legitimate by NCAA rules. Of course they changed them every time they met, and tried to keep up with everything that the coaches out there were trying to do to get every possible bit of advantage, which is their job, and that I believe, is what led to their downfall. That and being so slow to recognize that the student athletes were where their concerns should have been in the first place. Everyone knows that I proposed breaking up the NCAA 10 years before it happened. I didn't propose it because I didn't want to follow their rules, I proposed it because their way of doing things didn't work anymore.
Cawood: Coach Rupp, Were you satisfied with your career at Kentucky?
Coach Rupp: Yes Cawood, I was. Right up until the end. I didn't want to leave when I did. I was experiencing a few minor health problems that now I understand they just give you a pill for and you go on, but for the most part I felt like I could go on coaching another 10 years, but the folks at Kentucky saw it differently. But Joe stepped in and did a good job when I left. Oh, I would have loved to win a title every year I was at Kentucky, but circumstances prevented that, and I was not about to do what some other schools were doing and pay kids to come to Kentucky. I wanted no part of that. Other places did, but not Kentucky.
Cawood: Coach Rupp, I know you have heard the rumors about $20 handshakes and the like, what about those?
Coach Rupp: Well Cawood, I know that happened, but we tried to keep it to a minimum. I warned the boys about that kind of thing, but the folks at Kentucky love their basketball, and they felt like they were just helping those boys out. But I never condoned that type of thing.
Cawood: Coach Calipari, What about you? Were you satisfied with your time in Lexington?
Coach Calipari: Cawood, my time in Lexington was me living out my life's dream. I would have stayed longer, but I didn't think it was fair to my wife and family. I did stay five years longer than I planned, but when you are winning, and you are still capable of doing the job that you are being paid for, it was easy to decide to stay. I was like Coach Rupp, I would have loved to stay a lot longer, it just was not the right thing for me then. But I tell you this, it was the greatest time I spent coaching in my entire career.
Cawood: Just one more question gentlemen, and this one comes from the folks at A Sea Of Blue, which is now the biggest internet sports news site in the world. Would either of you do anything differently than you did when you were coaching? Coach Rupp, I'll let you take this one first.
Coach Rupp: Cawood, I can honestly say that I wouldn't change a thing. I loved my boys, I loved the University of Kentucky, and I loved the fans. And everything I did, I did for them.
Coach Calipari: Cawood, the only thing I would have done differently is try to get to Kentucky sooner.
Cawood: Gentlemen, I thank you. It has been an honor and a pleasure. We will do this again some time. Write it down.