Kentucky's John Calipari: When The Bough Breaks

Well, I guess I shouldn't have mentioned him needing glasses... - Lance King

...and down will come baby, cradle and all.

And I thought global warming was bad. It's nothing compared to some of the vitriol surrounding Kentucky coach John Calipari after some unexpected late-season losses to unranked teams.

When Calipari arrived at Kentucky the air was filled with electricity. The buzz was beyond large when Calipari stepped to the podium and declared that Kentucky would be returned to greatness. When he proclaimed that Kentucky would once again become the word that coaches dare not speak when they got their slim chance with a recruit that we wanted playing in the blue and white. And then it happened. He was right.

When Kentucky left New Orleans after their NCAA Championship performance, opposing coaches, the press, and anyone who stood in line to take pot shots at Calipari's "players first" approach took a huge step backward, grasped their hats at the brim, and removed them out of respect to what had been accomplished by the man who didn't have what it took to win it all with a bunch of undisciplined freshmen. And all the while they whispered under their breath, "just wait."

They didn't wan't to admit that with the right mix of talent, attitude, coaching, discipline, and experience, a team of relatively young college players can be a formidable force in the college game. They did not want to have it thrown in their face that the old way of doing things was not the only way.

Calipari did not tell anyone that they were doing things wrong. He did not tell anyone they were dinosaurs. He did not make any accusations that anyone was colluding to prevent him becoming a premier college basketball coach. Even though rumors about goings on at Memphis were punctuated by the NCAA waiving test results for a certain Memphis point guard after they could not "confirm" that he actually took the ACT. Never mind that they could not confirm he didn't. He didn't make excuses for the circumstances that everyone wished to hold over his head that were none of his doing.

When Calipari came to Kentucky, however, the Big Blue Faithful lined up in defense of Cal's actions. We were quick to point out that there was no proof of any wrongdoing. We were adamant that there would be no such nonsense happening at Kentucky because our compliance department was second to none and Sandy Bell would be making sure that there were no "grey areas" for anyone to point fingers at. And yet there were. Somehow Calipari had managed to fix Eric Bledsoe's High School transcripts. No one knew how, but somehow he had managed to get into that High School's computers and convince his Algebra teacher that he had done work that he really had not.

Oh, and he also got John Wall out of breaking in and vandalizing a house, even after it was finally made public knowledge that no such vandalism had occurred. None of that mattered though. Calipari was crooked, and everyone knew it. Everyone but Kentucky fans. We knew that Calipari was being judged unfairly and we said so. Loud and proud. We pointed out that Calipari was not only running a clean program, he was running a successful one. And not just on the court, but off the court as well.

Players were graduating. John Calipari was actually seeing players pick up a diploma from his team. He also had players coming back to Kentucky to complete the work for their degrees. Next, he started doing the unthinkable. He started helping out the rest of the sports at UK. He started lending his name and his abilities to the women's basketball team. He started helping out the FOOTBALL team. The head coach of the school that gave their basketball coach a car, and their bowl winning football coach a lighter had dared to try and help make the football team better. His critics became not less critical but more so after the Cats won their championship. A fluke, they said. An anomaly. A flash in the pan. You can't do it again. You got lucky.

They didn't have to wait long to rub it in, either. Less than 2 short years after the Kentucky Wildcats owned college basketball the detractors are lining up to fire salvo after salvo.

You made your bed John Calipari, now lie in it

That was the headline from Yahoo Sports on March 2nd. Pat Forde wants to complain because Calipari wasn't around to speak to the press afterwards. He "blew off the press conference" and now he has a target on his back the size of George Washington's forehead on Mt. Rushmore. Pat Forde is ticked off because he thinks Cal took a powder and left his kids hanging out in the breeze after "he got himself thrown out" of the game in Columbia, and now the blood is in the water.

J.D. King, over at our SBNation sister site Duke Basketball Report decided to get his shots in the next day. He proclaimed that Forde had "turned on Calipari". Obviously he knows little about Forde's seemingly obsessed approach to covering Calipari and the Cats as they have made red-headed step-children out of his friend and co-author, Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals virtually every year since he arrived at Kentucky. King, however, takes the audacious approach to his article that now "It'll be interesting to see what happens if the fans follow Forde's lead."

Kentucky fans following Pat Forde? Please. The only place Kentucky fans will follow Pat Forde to is the edge of a cliff to witness him either jump off in an effort to rid the world of another blight on humanity, or to see him proclaim once and for all in a voice as loud as thunder that he is not just small minded, but arrogant, vindictive, and spiteful when someone dare show him to be wrong.

Forde points out that Rupp Arena was the site of chants of "Ten-Loss Tubby" when head coach Tubby Smith had seasons that were supposedly not up to snuff for the Big Blue Nation. I find it seemingly curious that Forde cannot remember his own words when discussing the firing of Tubby Smith by Minnesota less than a year ago:

In the case of Smith, he gave Minnesota six years of good and zero years of great. And with a salary of nearly $2 million this year, the school was paying for great (or at least really, really good).

Forde conveniently forgets his own words when discussing Smith's job performance and the perception of the fans and their expectations:

The schools were unreasonable, unrealistic and unfair, the cultists said. They have a warped view of their place in the college basketball hierarchy. They were lucky to have those coaches and will be even luckier to find a replacement as good. And so forth. Pardon me for not sharing their outrage...That might be part of the reason why Smith put out feelers for several other jobs during his six years at Minnesota. He never left of his own accord, but that's not because he never looked. Most recently, sources said Smith had his eye on Auburn should the school choose to let go of Tony Barbee after three struggling seasons. That would have been akin to the exit Smith orchestrated at Kentucky – beating the posse out of town to Minnesota and then hearing outsiders pile on the school for running off a good coach.

So Tubby Smith was willing to entertain the idea of jumping, but he got pushed first. And now that makes Minnesota the bad guy in the Cult of the Coach worldview.

I'm not buying the outrage. Not for Tubby Smith. [my emphasis]

How quickly they forget.

So the drums are beating. Someone smelled a little bit of wood smoke out behind the house and decided to yell, "FIRE!' Someone decided to vent their frustrations at the kids who Calipari is trying to coach and teach that no matter what some people have told them, they are not going to always succeed. They are not always going to be loved and revered by all. Sometimes they are going to disappoint him and the fans, and the sportswriters who cling to their every word.

Well, maybe not the sportswriters. They cling to anything they can suck the life out of. See, that's what they get paid to do. They get paid to take shots at any target they can. Throw whatever you can throw at the target and see what sticks. And if you throw enough at it, then others start throwing too. And pretty soon the target gets covered in whatever can be found that can be thrown.

Somewhere, however, under all that garbage piled on the target, there is a man. A man who not long ago was revered by some of those very same people throwing the garbage as the savior of the Kentucky program. The man who is also the coach that has compiled a 144-34 record since arriving at Kentucky, and an NCAA Championship, and three SEC Championships in four years.

Am I suggesting that Calipari is not subject to the same criticisms and critiques as everyone else in the game? No. Is he exempt from having to stand there and let the garbage get tossed his way? Not one bit. But he is also not exempt from being human and reaching a point where he decides he has heard enough for one day, the very same way all of us have done at various points in our lives. The same way guys like Forde can get on their high horse and claim in high dudgeon to be the word of the people.

No matter how obviously oafish they look and sound doing it.

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