Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On Calipari

I have never liked former Memphis Tigers Coach John Calipari. He has an impressive record, but I don't like him in spite of his recent accomplishments.


During Calipari's first season in Memphis - my last year living in Memphis - I was a Tigers season ticket holder. I attended many games in the Pyramid, and I remember thinking, "Are we really paying this guy this much money to teach these players to pass the ball around the three point line for 25 seconds?"

Years later, I remember thinking "Are we paying him this much for annual appearances in the NIT?" People forget that it took Calipari 6 seasons to coach Memphis out of the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament.

He was charismatic, and a damned good recruiter. And he seems to create a good environment for the players.

But there was always something that rubbed me the wrong way. He was always too slick, and he never said anything that made me think he had a strong basketball mind.

In 2005, the NBA added a rule that forced the Amare Stoudemires and the Lebron Jameses to endure at least one year in college before entering the NBA draft. That season, Calipari's Tigers progressed to the Elite Eight and the coach's skills as a recruiter increased significantly.

With the best college player in the country, Calipari took the Tigers to the NCAA finals.

On the most public stage in college basketball, the Tigers then suffered the most miserable, embarrassing defeat imaginable, losing to Kansas after leading by 9 with 3 minutes left in the game. When winning the game was inevitable, the team choked on possession after possession for three excruciating minutes plus overtime.

That is the memory of John Calipari's Tigers that stands out most in my mind. When the team needed a leader to pull them together, Calipari was not able to do so successfully.

Now that memory is Calipari's legacy for me.

As for the Tigers, with Calipari gone, and the recruiting class decimated, the Tigers are just as close - at least two to three seasons - to relevance as they were when he arrived.

In fact, they may be further from relevance since CUSA has also been decimated since then.

You can't argue with Calipari's results. He almost won a championship.

You can't argue with his choice to leave. I would leave my job if I liked another opportunity better.

But when I think of John Calipari, I'm not impressed.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think he's made a bad decision. He had recruited a team he could go all the way with which in Memphis would be a very big deal...a really big deal for Memphis. Kentucky is used to winning. Expects to win. How many championships will he have to capture to live up to that salary???
Tan

David Jones said...

I agree he could have created a legacy in Memphis - established a legacy - by winning multiple championships.

But I think he actually has to do less in UK to be relevant.

For example, winning one championship in Memphis is a fluke. Winning one championship in Kentucky is part of a historic tradition.

Curt said...

We did not even pay him much in that first season. Not until he started leveraging other school's offers in order to get way more money from us. And his salary didn't really balloon until recently when he was producing in March. He was never the best basketball game coach, but he has always been one of the game's best recruiters. Recruiting national talent is way more important here than getting a bunch of average kids to overachieve. Cal did things that were way more long term than X's and O's. All the facilities at Memphis are now equal to or better than any other program in the nation. Donations to the AD are higher than ever. Memphis will be able to offer top 10 salary to try to lure a big name. Also, his recruiting didnt improve because of the age limit. The only players that has affected were Rose and Evans. The difference improvement in his recruiting came came from the improvement in the behavior of his recruits. The guys from the 2005 class never had academic problems or arrests (maybe 2, but no biggie). Sure Cal benefitted from the rule, but so has Ben Howland, Thad Matta, Tim Floyd, Rick Barnes, and on and on and on. When I think of DLTG, I'm not impressed.

Curt said...

Also, I found a blog you might enjoy.... http://noclueaboutcollegeball.blogspot.com/

David Jones said...

Curt,

I don't argue that recruiting is not important to college basketball. Nor do I argue that other Calipari is one of a kind. Calipari is great at recruiting. That's why he was successful.

I only wanted to point out that Xs & Os is the difference between NCAA champion and embarrassing runner up.

How can you say his recruiting didn't improve because of the age limit? He would have had Amare if that rule was in place earlier, and Rose took him to the finals. I think it's safe to say his recruiting was more successful after the change.

I think it's fair to credit Calipari for increased donations and improved facilities. I haven't argued otherwise.

However, even with those improvements the Tigers will be terrible next year, and they're unlikely to make the Sweet Sixteen within the next three seasons.

I don't think you can credit Calipari with the Tiger's ability to recruit a big name. They recruited big names before Calipari. For example, in 2000, they recruited Calipari.

Curt said...

Unfortunately, RC Johnson is in charge. He couldn't keep a job at Tickle.com.

I'm not saying recruiting didn't improve. I'm saying that everyone's improved. The difference between Derrick Rose & Memphis vs like Jarred Bayless & Arizona last year (there's probably a better example) was the rest of the players around them. Derrick was the difference, but the junior class last year was rediculous and it was not NBA talent. Douglass-Roberts can't get minutes on the Nets empty roster. Dorsey can't stay on the Rockets' roster. Calipari & Bill Self are the best at getting the one year guys but the most important part of the recruiting they do is everyone else on the team. Memphis went to 3 Elite 8s in a row which almost no one does. Memphis's hiring of a big name, I would argue, is completely because of call. There are way more big time donors than ever which is due to him. Prior to him, all head coaches had been hired in house. Tick Price was the first outside hire in forever. We just got lucky that he hooked up with some student about the same time Cal was looking to get back into college the same way Louisville was lucky Denny Crum finally retired when Pitino had failed at the NBA. It's all timing. Unfortunately, timing has now come around and fucked Memphis State bad. Billy Gillespe lost in the NIT just as we got upset in the tournament. If Michigan State had been upset by Kansas and we went to the Final Four again this year, Izzo would probably be the coach at KY and I would not be on a three day bender.

David Jones said...

It wasn't just timing.

Calipari had the choice to stay. You can't blame him for leaving, but he could have stayed.

There are now more resources at Memphis' disposal because of Cal. But I think they could have still hired a big name, and regardless of who they hire, they are years away from being good.

Curt said...

Maybe you can explain to me why the Grizzlies are afraid of my 2nd half eating prowess... http://www.ticketmaster.com/promo/15imzx?camefrom=CFC_GRIZZLIES_PRAYCE

David Jones said...

They have probably heard about Eat-A-Thon, and are afraid you will bring Cho.

Ben said...

I think they will have trouble landing a big name coach because of the current state of CUSA. I feel they are doomed to become a stepping stone for up and coming assistants making the transition to headcoach. I struggle to think of any big name coaches at non BCS schools. I don't know how you get out of CUSA and get into the big east or SEC, but until something like that happens, I don't see them becoming relevant on the national scene any time soon.

John said...

I'm sorry did I stumble upon Davidlovesdiscussingnon-NBA relatedtopics.blogspot.com? Because i was looking for insight into our two game win streak, where we might fall in the lotery, who we are looking for in the draft and othe Grizzlies related items. Plus Calpari will be back in Memphis in a few years after he wins a title with UK and wants to try again in the NBA. Also, I am not sure if Calpari gets all the recruiting credit, if I had World Wide Wes recruiting for me I think i could bring in a top 5 recruiting class every year.

mbaker said...

it's likely that louisville is going to own memphis for the next 10 years...or more.

mbaker said...

it's like that visa commercial where the memphis and louisville fans happen to share an umbrella or an appetizer. that's history now. the memphis guy will be the bellboy or something like that.

tyreke evans is good tho!

Curt said...

Memphis and Louisville don't play each other except in football. And there is a "ugh" on the end of though.

Curt said...

I don't think the Memphis job is one that all big time coaches will ignore. The one thing that I think gave Memphis an advantage over Kentucky as far as choosing the job is the fact that if you can recruit and win good non-conference games, you have an automatic 1 or 2 seed in the tournament every year. If you have a decent team at all, you run through CUSA and your record ends up being 30-3 or like 28-5 in a bad year. Even if you don't play anybody in your nonconference schedule, the selection committee still can't ignore a rediculous record, like St. Joe's a few years ago. Starting the tournament as a 1 or 2 every year because your record is inflated is a bonus. This does not at all mean that Memphis is a better situation than Kentucky, it's just that I think Cal finally figured out how to take advantage of the situation here. Getting a 1 seed coming out of Memphis regularly is much easier than getting one coming from a major conference.

Curt said...

John, not only is it a win streak, but we have won three out of four. We are the hottest team in basketball right now.

Trinh said...

Perhaps the Grizzlies can opt out of the NBA and join CUSA so Memphis still has a strong amateur men's team. Or move to the WNBA and bring the city a championship.

Ben said...

Memphis is definitely losing more than 5 games next year no matter who they hire as a coach, there recruiting class is thrown out the window, and they lose a lot of senior talent. CUSA sucks, they might still win the conference, but they won't dominate it like they are used to. In College bball teams slide back into mediocrity quickly when they lose their big name coach (see Arizona, altho they had a lucky run in the tourney, so not a great example... how about uMass after calipari left, or cincinatti after Huggins.) Memphis is going to have to hire an up and coming assistant, which I believe is what Calipari is pushing them to do.

John said...

If only Stern would make the playoff format such that all teams got in, nobody would want to see the Grizz in the first round. lets hope we build on this in summer league this year and preseason in the fall.

David Jones said...

Point Ben.

Also, according to the CA, one big name coach, Tim Floyd, has already turned down the Memphis gig.

Let's see what Pearl does now.

Curt said...

Oh please don't get me wrong. We are probably losing 40 games next year. As of right now, we only have 2 players who don't want to transfer. I was just trying to explain why I think being in CUSA can be beneficial to a coach who can recruit. But now that your average church league coach won't take this job it doesn't matter.
In exciting related news, people are now suggesting Kevin O'Neil and Henry Bibby. I'm going to kill myself.

David Jones said...

Curt,

Big time coach #2 has rejected the Memphis job. Will you please admit that Calipari has not left this program as a nationally significant program?

Memphis is no closer to relevance than it was before Cal.

Ben said...

http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/news/story?id=4047664

Cal's assistant is taking the job. definitely not a big name. But hey, Tom Izzo was an assistant at a fairly irrelevant school, (MSU hadn't been good for quite a while), now he's hot shit.

David Jones said...

Curt,

"Memphis will be able to offer top 10 salary to try to lure a big name."

"Memphis's hiring of a big name, I would argue, is completely because of [Cal]. There are way more big time donors than ever which is due to him. Prior to him, all head coaches had been hired in house."

By big name coach did you mean someone who has never coached a game of college basketball in his life? Has he even coached a game on any level?

Will you now admit that Cal is a prick and left the Memphis program no better (or slightly better if you count the practice court) than he found it?

Curt said...

Well he's very cute at least. The ladies are excited.

Plus he did hire Xavier Henry's dad yesterday, so he seems like a shady recruiter too. He'll at least make a run at two of the three big recruits, but I still expect they'll be gone.

The boosters are pissed. Hopefully the AD will be fired soon. That's my only silver lining at this point.

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