Kentucky Wildats Basketball: Can John Calipari Reach the Hall of Fame Without A Title?

The question of John Calipari's future status as a Naismith Hall of Famer is starting to pop up around the Internet lately, and one article by Ron Chimelis of The Republican was the subject of an article by Eric Lindsey at CoachCal.com, which served to bring it to my attention.

A fairly common meme among Calipari detractors, notwithstanding the NCAA Committee on Infractions incidents which appear on his résumé, is his lack of a national title.  Why that would be is anybody's guess, because an NCAA Tournament title is absent from the records of a significant minority of Hall of Fame coaches, including such worthies as Eddie Sutton, Lou Carnesecca, Norm Stewart, and Pete Carril among many others.  So clearly, lack of an NCAA Tournament championship isn't a deal-breaker, although it certainly could be said to be a hindrance, and getting into the HOF is much easier with one than without.

It seems fairly unlikely that Calipari is overly concerned about his legacy at this particular point, and for a fact, he is still a couple of years away from even being eligible for consideration to the Hall of Fame (25 years as a coach is the minimum).  Under "normal" circumstances, given his win percentage and success at every school he's coach at, Calipari's eventual induction into the HOF would seem to be a foregone conclusion.

But there is another impediment to Calipari's selection to coaching's highest honor -- controversy.  Despite the fact that he was exonerated by the NCAA for Marcus Camby's violations at UMass and not blamed for Derrick Rose's alleged academic fraud at Memphis, both those incidents weigh heavily in the public opinion, rightly or wrongly.  They give the selection committee a reason not to pick Calipari. Added to his lack of an NCAA title, the committee has two excuses to overlook Coach Cal when he does become eligible.

With that said, it didn't stop them from picking Eddie Sutton, who presided over one of the worst scandals in the history of college basketball at Kentucky, a scandal for which the NCAA named him as blameworthy.  Notably, Sutton also did not manage a national championship, so it seems likely that we can conclude that a pristine NCAA compliance record and NCAA Tournament title are not prerequisites for the honor, taken together or separately.

Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orangemen has also been inducted into the HOF despite an NCAA problem which garnered "should have known" blame from the NCAA and banned the Orangemen from the 1993 NCAA tournament, a blemish that is virtually never mentioned in connection with Boeheim in the national media.

With that said, Jerry Tarkanian, who has had a stellar statistical career, but one plagued with numerous run-ins with the NCAA for which he was notably found blameworthy, does have an NCAA title and four Final Fours.  Complicating this was the fact that Tarkanian successfully sued the NCAA for violating his right to due process, a case in which he ultimately prevailed, forcing the NCAA to make changes to the enforcement process.  Tarkanian retired in 2002, and he remains a HOF outsider despite his unquestionably deserving record.

Tarkainian seems to be something of a public relations problem for the selection committee, as many in the media and without consider him a cheater and unworthy of the honor.  This is also true, albeit to a somewhat lesser extent, of John Calipari.  Unlike Boeheim and to a lesser degree, Eddie Sutton, the national media never fail to mention Calipari's NCAA run-ins when talking about his record, much more in the mold of Tarkanian than Sutton or Boeheim. 

As long as that continues, it is this writer's considered opinion that unless Calipari unleashes a fusillade of NCAA Tournament championships over the next several years (which is certainly possible), he will need to amass 800 wins in order to get consideration from the HOF selection committee, at least until a historical perspective replaces the current narrative.  At 800+ wins (assuming no further NCAA problems), even the narrative and the lack of an NCAA Tournament title could not keep him out for an appreciable length of time.

To be fair, this discussion is surely premature.  Calipari, at only 52 years old, could potentially coach for 25 more years at least, although he has insisted that this will not be his career path.  But even if he coaches for only 8 more years at Kentucky, Calipari could easily eclipse 700 wins and multiple national titles.  That ought to be enough, eventually.

The question is, when is "eventually?"

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