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Calipari’s Future, SEC Tourney Edition

Going to the New York Knicks would be an epic disaster for John Calipari. I think that Phil Jackson and Cal are just not a sensible marriage. With that said, Calipari's recent quote about how UK just needed an offensive "tweak" to get their swag back is exhibit A on what is so maddening about this coach. The guy is still out slinging snake oil even when it is clear that he hasn't done his job well recently.

The preferred way to handle things, in our humble estimation, would be to say something like: "Look, we haven't been as good as everyone wanted or imagined us to be. We were overrated in the preseason and we haven't jelled like some of my past teams have. I take full responsibility as I haven't pushed the right buttons. Thankfully, this is March and we are Kentucky. There is still a lot to play for and we are going to leave it all on the floor for the Big Blue Nation this week in Catlanta and, god willing, in the NCAAs."

But of course, Calipari has to say things to uphold his bargain with all the shysters and hypesellers he deals with. Basically, even when the cards are down, he comes out sounding like a used car salesmen with a new dog and pony show to get everyone excited. These things work quite well when you're winning--especially the way Cal was winning in his first 3 years at the head of the program. But they come off as stale and borderline delusional when you aren't.

We still think, and sincerely hope, that Cal stays at Kentucky for a while. He has put too much into the program to throw it all away on two subpar seasons. And let's be fair, Kentucky still finished second in the SEC this season. So we aren't talking about everything cratering. But there is no doubt whatesoever that Calipari will need to make some pretty far-reaching changes.

It starts with trying to convince as many of this nucleus of kids as possible to stick around for next year. We think Young and Randle are 100% gone, with their places filled by heralded recruits Devin Booker and Trey Lyles. It would also stand to reason that the Harrison Twins are gone, to be replaced by Tyler Ulis and perhaps another commit. There is also a good chance Willie Cauley-Stein leaves, which is why Cal also signed dominant prep bigman Karl Towns. If none of these kids come back, next season will look a lot like this year, experience-wise. And unless they just have a special chemistry, that really won't fly.

We think Calipari needs to get more of them to stay in school, and he needs to give some of the bench players (Hawkins, Lee, Johnson, etc.) a little more PT during the SEC and NCAA tourneys just to prepare them for next year.

Calipari is 55 years old. Not exactly a good age to go off and attempt to forge a new legacy in the NBA when you've already failed it once. If AD Mitch Barnhart has a pair, he will have a long, meaningful talk with Calipari at the end of this season and tell him that UK wants to keep him around but that the underachievement cannot continue for three straight years. Then again, maybe UK will make a tourney run and none of this will be necessary. But we are sincerely doubting that.

The Current Coaching Situation

WIth all the above being said, some in the Big Blue Nation are talkin about the situation being perilously close to job changes made. Despite the ridiculousness of this speculation, we thought it would be worth it to give our two cents on things.

First, a determination must be made by the program on whether or not Calipari is the best man (and the right man) for the job. If you are Mitch Barnhart, how in the hell can you actually believe he is not? Out of five years, Calipari has given you a natty title and two Final 4 banners. In all, he has 3 superb seasons, one stinker and one semi-successful but mostly subpar year (this season). Unless Cal states outright that he is bolting for NBA dollars, what possible calculation could Barnhart be making to want to replace that?

Second, if for some crazy reason, Barnhart does believe that Calipari is not the right person to be UK's coach, then the logical next question is...what is the contingency plan and what are the risks of putting it into play? Billy D is not coming to Kentucky. That ship has sailed. The guy is a living legend in Florida, may be on the verge of notching a fourth Final Four and seventh Elite 8 appearance, possibly a third natty title. So, barring Billy D, we have to assume that all the other names on the list (Mark Few, Tom Izzo, Jay Wright, etc.) are going to do exactly what they did in 2009...turn down an offer to interview. If anything has changed since Calipari, it is that the UK job is even more radioactive as fan expectations are now soooooo high that they are almost ridiculous. So, what names are you actually left with? Gregg Marshall from Wichita State? Ok, nice coach with a nice two year run. But really, is that the play here? We find that such a scenario stretches credulity.

Third, assuming Cal stays and Barnhart wants him to stay (both very likely), then your last scenario here is booster influence. We agree that these guys have pull and are going to impact program decisions with their money. But really, do we have any evidence to believe that booster sentiment is tilting toward pitchforks and torches to run Calipari out of town? Even with the past two downseasons, it seems that UK is still up near the top in terms of talked about programs and several of this season's games were huge national affairs. So even in a downcycle, UK is still "in the conversation," and we think that means a lot to boosters. Yeah, UK needs to win more. No one denies that. But we arent entering the doldrums of Tubby Smith's last 5 years or the flat out catastrophe of Billy G. So the question is...does anyone see boosters wanting to push for a change?

At the end of the day, the best way to get the ship righted is to have Barnhart apply a little pressure on Cal--not enough to force him out but enough to make him rethink the one-and-done a little bit. If Cal works with his handlers and flesh peddler contacts, he can get the word out that a lot of these kids arent ready after just one year in college. The problem is that doing such a thing jeopardizes Cal's own recruiting prowess and reputation as running an NBA factory. But he really needs to find a way to keep more continuity in the program. The lack of leadership and desire is palpable right now.

Still, the SEC tourney starts today and we couldn't be more excited to see how things play out. If history holds form, Kentucky should have a few things to say before the conference season ends.

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