John Calipari: Fact or Fiction.

In the wake of and leading up to the University of Kentucky’s 2000th victory, the usual snakes slithered from under the usual rocks to take the usual shots at UK Coach John Calipari.  It seems that every has-been and never-was in the game feels compelled to bless us with their half-baked opinions on what exactly makes Coach Cal such “slime,” such a “scumbag” or any other negative adjective.  The greatest purveyors of this trash seem to come directly from the top, that rogue’s gallery of “analysts” currently employed by ESPN.  In a week when UK faithful should have been enjoying a moment of unprecedented success, Big Blue Nation was forced to ball up its collective fists in anger as the ever-charming likes of Bobby Knight, Skip Bayless, Colin Cowherd, Pat Forde, Jemele Hill and Jay Mariotti fired shots across the bow, questioning not only the character of the coach, but of the fans and the university itself.

While it’s certainly refreshing to hear rehashed and largely unfounded accusations thrown about on what is allegedly the “World Wide Leader in Sports,” it is even more exciting to hear how a man is lacking in character from anchors who have, in their past, done everything from choke young players, fabricate scandals for personal gain, blame innocent fans for a potential World Series loss and engage in both unchecked jingoism and gay-baiting.  Truly, these are the names that should sit atop the Mount Rushmore of “character” and serve as the beacon of light in these murky times.

However, what if by some chance these great and proud sports luminaries were… well… lying?  What if these individuals were deliberately ignoring facts surrounding a situation and allowing their opinions to be governed only by emotions, personal opinions or allegiances to other programs?  Surely a network large enough to be the sports leader of the entire world could provide them with crack teams of researchers to guarantee that those opinions they share with us each day are based in fact… right?

“We’ve gotten into this situation where integrity is really lacking and that’s why I’m glad I’m not coaching,” Knight said.  “You see we’ve got a coach at Kentucky who put two schools on probation and he’s still coaching.  I really don’t understand that.”

Throughout his career, Bobby Knight has been regarded as the “great teacher of basketball,” shaping often average talent into great players and even greater men.  Surely this man, regarded for his intellect, is capable of using Google (or at least using the vast resources surrounding him) to determine whether his statement is based in fact or simply pulled out of thin air.  You would hope for this kind of accuracy from such a highly regarded “teacher,” but perhaps Knight’s memory is fading in his older years.  While UMass did have a tournament run (and thus a Final Four appearance) vacated, there were no additional sanctions placed on the university.  Furthermore, in a letter obtained by the New York Daily News, Calipari was completely exonerated of any wrong-doing by the NCAA, saying “The committee fully recognizes you had nothing to with the violations of Marcus Camby during the 1995-96 season. In a sense, you were an innocent victim.”  It is also worth noting that the University of Memphis is currently appealing any NCAA sanctions, thus rendering Knight’s statement a complete fabrication at this point, and at best only partially true at some point down the road.  In short, Bobby Knight can have his choice between being ignorant of the facts, a liar or simply just a mean old bastard with borderline sociopathic tendencies.

In the article, Mariotti stated, “Calipari fled as the investigations were ongoing — first to the NBA‘s New Jersey Nets, then to underachieving Kentucky, where the giddy natives were thrilled to have him and apparently don’t care if a marquee-name coach has ax-murdered 20 people.”

ESPN columnist and “First Take” talking face, Jemele Hill, suggested that Kentucky fans would be satisfied with Charles Manson as their head coach as long as the team is winning.

In these two comments we are once again enlightened by our ESPN overlords as to how we as a fanbase see the world.  What I find tough to understand about these particular comments is exactly where our murderous wrath has originated.  To the best of my knowledge, no Kentucky coaches have ever actually murdered anyone.  Granted, the National Right to Life movement may see ONE Kentucky coach as a murderer, but I’m fairly sure that he’s no longer wearing blue these days (and is incidentally off-limits for scorn at the “World Wide Leader”).  In fact, when one looks at the coaching lineage at the University of Kentucky in the past 40 years, it’s rather difficult to see much tolerance for the murderous type.  If we’re to be considered a scandalous program over the past four decades, that reputation could only come from Eddie Sutton (who was run thoroughly out of the state for his transgressions), or in some small way from Billy Gillespie (I’d point out that any publicly accepted Gillespie scandals took place before and after his tenure at UK).  Surely these incidents wouldn’t give an entire program such a reputation, as they were all dealt with immediately.  Say what you will about the program, but I will not stand by and allow Joe B Hall and Tubby Smith to be accused of murder!

Of course, this ridiculous and shockingly ignorant assumption comes on the back of the hiring of Coach Calipari, who somehow has managed to gain the reputation of the homicidal maniac of the NCAA.  So. let’s call a spade a spade.  If Calipari is history’s greatest monster for having not one, but TWO Final Four appearances vacated, then let’s take a look at some of the other demons lurking throughout NCAA history.

Jim Calhoun – UConn’s 1996 NCAA tournament appearance has been vacated by the league, and the team is currently under investigation for recruiting violations between 2006-08 as player Nate Miles allegedly received lodging, meals and representation from an agent.

Lute Olsen – While the great talking-head factory gears up to discuss the possibility of Sean Miller’s Arizona team being the first Wildcat squad not to make the NCAA tournament in 25 appearances (the nation’s longest streak) they will, as they did last season, breathlessly overlook the fact that Arizona has a vacated appearance in 1999, after Jason Terry decided to take money from an agent.

Jim Valvano – An inspirational figure and sacred cow in the ESPN family, Valvano (like Calipari) has tournament appearances vacated from both Iona and NC State.  While the violations were certainly occurring without Valvano’s knowledge, the same method used to clear his name has not been applied to John Calipari.

… and perhaps the granddaddy of them all…

John Wooden – No name causes more slobbering and fondling of genitals in the ESPN studios than that of John Wooden.  However, often forgotten are the 15 years Wooden spent at UCLA with ne’ery a title to show for his efforts.  Interestingly enough, after the arrival of new booster and generally shadowy figure Sam Gilbert, the team began to take off in a different direction.  In the 12 years after Gilbert arrived (and opened his checkbook to figures such as Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton), the Bruins put together their now legendary dynasty.

The list goes on and on, from Rick Pitino’s behavior as an assistant at Hawaii to Gene Keady’s misdeeds near the end of his run with Purdue.  In fact, since Calipari’s vacated Final Four in 1996 both Minnesota (1997) and Ohio State (1999) have vacated Final Four appearances.  For all of the pounding on the pulpit we’ve heard in the past few days about “ethics” in college sports, these facts seem strangely absent from the discussion.

To put it bluntly, many of the ladies and gentlemen placed in front of a camera to give us “insight” into the world of sports know absolutely no more than the rest of us.  While we, as lowly fans, may choose to actually look into an issue to find the truth at the heart of the matter, their egos prohibit them from accepting even the slight possibility that they may be wrong on any given issue and thus create a national discussion awash in misinformation and factually ignorant opinion.  Their biases shine through, overlooking what may have been done by someone they admire (or in some cases by someone their employers simply refuse to allow to be taken to the carpet) in the interest of playing up to what market research says will draw in a crowd.  It isn’t popular to bash John Calipari in Kentucky, but it is popular to do so in the rest of the lower 47 states. Facts be damned and the truth serving only as a hinderance to higher ratings, this kind of schlock is to be expected from “analysts” who see themselves more as media personalities and less as journalists every day.

As far as Bobby Knight goes, anyone willing to look at the situation honestly has to address the fact that Knight is an old man watching the game pass him by.  In Knight’s era, a coach could recruit in his backyard with the hopes of developing talent over a four-year span.  In 2009, the presence of AAU basketball, And 1 Mix Tapes and higher-profile athletes has managed to render that style of coaching obsolete.  No coach in the game of basketball has adapted to the modern player in the way Calipari has, and no coach seemed more bewildered by the modern-era than Knight toward the end of his career.  Unfortunately, Bobby Knight decided to direct his ire at one man, never stopping to wonder if just maybe he was angry at the game itself.  Of course, he does happen to work in front of the camera now… and for a man with an ego the size of his, I fear for the interns.

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15 Responses to “John Calipari: Fact or Fiction.”

  1. Daylan Says:

    And that is why I consider right-wing media the ESPN of politics.

    Most of them come from sports media backgrounds, and all are right, no matter what.

  2. Warren Says:

    ESPN has always been (and probably forever be) opponets of UK. There are few people on there that are fair and give UK a good shake. But the majority hate to see UK fly high and love to see them fall. And if there is anything they can use, no matter how insane it is, they will try to use it. You watch and see when Wall has a “bad night”. They will say that the hype is unjustified. Just like when Meeks ONLY scored 20 points in one game. To me, that’s quite a feat but not to ESPN. I guess you have to score along the lines of 60 to 100 points during the game to live up to the hype.

  3. Daylan Says:

    No worries, Warren, they will slam UK when Wall leaves after this year.

    It’ll be all about how UK doesn’t promote the sanctity of college sports.

  4. Kevin Says:

    As Aaron said on Facebook, it helps ratings when you have a heel, and in this case, it makes sense for people to make UK the bad guy instead of, say, the Tar Heels.

    I’m not going to ignore some of UK’s less-noble past, but in the course of 100-plus years, the program has done more right than wrong. Ultimately, it is THE college basketball program, and much like (as much as I hate to say this) the Yankees will always be hated by non-Yankees fans, UK will be hated by non-Wildcat fans.

  5. Clint Says:

    How many times was Coach Cal mentioned last year for wrong doings? I mean, he was still at Memphis and maybe I just wasn’t listening very closely, but I don’t recall hearing the first bad thing about the guy. As a matter of fact, I watched the game between Memphis/Tennessee and all that I recall hearing were good things. He comes to UK abd now he’s no good for the game…I wanna puke.

    • Katy Says:

      It’s because when Cal was at Memphis, he didn’t steal coaches and recruits from another school to make sure he had a good team. That’s why no one likes him now. Kentucky has to endure Calipari’s karma now, and after this year, the Wildcats aren’t going to be so strong, so enjoy it while you can. And I feel safe in speaking for every Memphis resident that we are all waiting for him to fall flat on his spumoni face.

  6. shane Says:

    Doesn’t Keith Olbermann have a sports media background?

  7. Keith Says:

    I think it stems from the undeserved reputation of Adoph Rupp being a racist, and the unprecendented longterm success of the UK program he built. No one can argue the success of John Wooden in his last years at UCLA, but everyone forgets a Wooden coached team NEVER beat a Rupp coached Kentucky team. Yes, they only played three times, twice in Lexington, but Wooden is 0-3 against Rupp. As for the racist reputation, there is so much evidence to the contrary, but no on wants to look at that because it is easier to vilify a legend (Wooden once called Rupp “an excellent fundamentals coach”) than it is to check the facts.

  8. Tom Says:

    Keith:

    You’ve drunk the Calipari Kool-aid. Kentucky has the best team money can buy, and if it can live with the fact that it didn’t just hire a coach, but it stole a recruiting class, so be it. But the karma always gets John…always. But by then, UK’s Faustian bargain will get the school as well.

  9. Keith Says:

    Tom,

    Student athletes choose a school for many reasons, not the least of which is the coach. It is not only common that a player will change schools to follow a coach, but will transfer because a new coach has arrived. As for Calipari, it is yet to be seen how he will handle any long-term recruiting as well as coaching in the hot seat of expectations that are Kentucky basketball. He may not do well at all after several years, but he may be incredible. No, the real problem is that Kentucky really is the best program of all time, bar none, and there are those–and I suspect you are one–who resent their success because your own program doesn’t match up.

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