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Calipari can’t resist Wildcats

Wed., April 1, 2009

Kentucky wants him to bring back the glory

LEXINGTON, Ky. – John Calipari agreed Tuesday to leave Memphis and the dominant program he built and take on the challenge — and riches — of returning Kentucky to college basketball glory.

Calipari will receive an eight-year, $31.65 million deal plus incentives, according to the university, making him the highest-paid coach in college basketball. The school also will pay Memphis a $200,000 buyout.

ESPN.com, citing an unidentified source, reported that the deal was worth $35 million, including a $2.5 million signing bonus.

The 50-year-old Calipari has a career record of 445-140 in 17 seasons. He chose to leave Memphis after nine seasons of success, including a record of 137-14 over the past four years.

He spent the day considering the Wildcats’ lucrative offer and calling former Kentucky coaches, including Joe B. Hall.

Hall said the informal chat centered on what it takes to survive one of college basketball’s most prestigious and most scrutinized jobs. Kentucky fired Billy Gillispie last Friday after two disappointing seasons.

Tigers walk-on Preston Laird said Calipari met with the team Tuesday afternoon, first as a group and then with individual players. The freshman guard described the meeting as very quiet, “Nobody really said anything.”

“He started off by telling us it was the hardest day of his life,” Laird said.

Memphis has scheduled a news conference for noon to discuss the future of its basketball program.

Hoping to make a big splash after Gillispie’s tenure, Kentucky reportedly went deep into its pockets to land one of the nation’s most high-profile coaches.

Calipari’s deal would eclipse the $3.5 million average salary of Florida’s Billy Donovan and dwarf those of Calipari’s predecessors Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and Gillispie.

Pitino, now the coach at rival Louisville, never made more than $2 million a season during his remarkably successful eight-year run at Kentucky. Smith’s compensation neared $2.1 million at the end of his decade with the program and Gillispie received a base salary of $2.3 million with another $750,000 available in incentives.

The salary nearly triples the $1.6 million salary of Kentucky football coach Rich Brooks, a rarity in a conference where football reigns.

Calipari already was one of the highest-paid coaches in the country, signing an extension with Memphis last year that paid him $2.35 million annually.

Memphis had promised to match whatever Kentucky offers, but the Wildcats have one thing Memphis doesn’t: the opportunity to coach in a top-flight conference at the home of college basketball’s winningest program.



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