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Kentucky Basketball: Does Calipari Have To Win A National Championship to be "Great?"

Calipari great?  Gregg Doyel thinks so, and he has a case.
Calipari great? Gregg Doyel thinks so, and he has a case.

As Wild Weasel linked earlier, Gregg Doyel has an article today on CBS Sports arguing that UK coach John Calipari is already great by any reasonable measure, even though he has yet to win an NCAA Tournament title. These three paragraphs give a good overview of his position:

You remember the team Kansas beat to win that 2008 title: Memphis. Coached by John Calipari. So because one guy hit one shot, in a season of thousands of shots attempted and defended by both teams, one coach is forever afforded greatness -- and one is still searching.

Does that make sense?

Of course not. What it does, though, is allow people to indulge their laziest fantasies. And in some minds -- OK, lots of minds -- John Calipari doesn't deserve to be considered a great coach. That's a special place, hallowed ground reserved for names like Wooden and Krzyzewski, Knight and Dean Smith, and Calipari doesn't belong there. Not after what happened at UMass, where his 1996 Final Four was vacated because Marcus Camby took benefits from an agent, and what happened at Memphis, where his 2008 Final Four was vacated because Derrick Rose obtained a fraudulent SAT score a year earlier, and a thousand miles away, while in high school.

Look, I am not really concerned, at this point in time, whether or not people consider Calipari "great." I think he's great, but I am a UK fan and that hardly qualifies as an objective opinion.

But notably, Doyel is NOT a UK fan, and that is beyond rational doubt. Many times has he blasted and mocked Kentucky for various things, and was merciless in his treatment of Tubby Smith when he was here -- and Smith has an NCAA Tournament title to his credit.

Of course, by almost every other measure, Smith's record is inferior to Calipari's, but it isn't my intention to compare the two men. I think they're both great, and yes, the aforementioned UK partisanship is unquestionably a factor. So sue me -- bias is a requirement for a person in my position as a fan and blogger.

But even if we ignore my subjective viewpoint, Doyel has a powerful, objective argument that can't be dismissed by a similarly powerful contrary one, because it doesn't exist. There are several college coaching members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame who don't have an NCAA championship: Pete Carril, John Chaney, Lou Carnesecca and Ralph Miller just to name four. All these coaches are considered great in some way, otherwise they wouldn't be there.

At the end of the day, greatness is defined in different ways for different people. Chaney, for instance, was a very good coach, but his lifetime winning percentage of .703 hardly puts him in rare air in that stat. But it's what he did for young people that was instrumental in getting Chaney inducted, not his W/L record. Of course, Chaney also publicly threatened to kill Calipari, but apparently, that's not unethical enough to keep you out of the HOF. Other things make up for it.

By any reasonable standard, as Doyel points out, Calipari is a great coach. Much has been made about his Dribble Drive Motion Offense innovation (which has mostly been given short shrift at UK due to personnel), but they ignore how he has managed to assemble teams at Kentucky who, despite their elite talent, play together like long-lost brothers and attend their classes, despite the all-too-often fact of one-and-done.

Coach Cal's critics aren't going to admit he's great no matter how many championships he wins. They'll point back to the UMass or Memphis vacated Final Fours and claim those were his fault (despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary), or claim he's a sleaze, or some conspiracy theory or other. The sports equivalent of the tinfoil hat brigade just won't be told they are wrong, dont'cha know?

It's like every other "flat-earther," since circa the 4th century BC - denial is not just a river in Egypt, and that whole "oblate spheroid" crap is a myth. A championship or three won't change that, because they will always find something that justifies their denial, no matter how unconvincing or theoretical to the rational mind.

But I'm fine with it. After all, do you want to waste your time convincing them? I don't We'd all be more productive trying to convince the moon landing deniers that Neil Armstrong Alan Shepard really did hit that golf ball on Luna.

No, its better to just mock them, if anything, and move on.