In the midst of a third loss in four SEC games, a Kentucky Wildcats fan was ejected from Rupp Arena on Tuesday evening for holding a sign reading, “Please go to Texas,” referencing the desire to see head coach John Calipari leave to take over the Texas Longhorns program following last week’s with-cause termination of Chris Beard.
Fan escorted out of Rupp after holding up a “Please go to Texas” sign during the South Carolina game… pic.twitter.com/llCn4A3WJn— Sophie Meadors (@SophieMeadors) January 11, 2023
The sign reflected increased frustration with Calipari in Lexington in the midst of a two-game losing streak that now includes a 28-point loss to No. 4 Alabama and a three-point loss to an 8-8 South Carolina team ended the 28-game home winning streak for Kentucky.
With the 1-3 start to conference play, fans are stinging over a frustrating stretch of basketball in the Bluegrass State — after a run to the Elite Eight to end the 2019 season, the Wildcats had a promising 25-6 record negated by the cancelled NCAA Tournament in 2020, endured a 9-16 season in 2020-21, one of the program’s worst in the last century of basketball, then watched as No. 2-seeded Kentucky fell to No. 15-seeded St. Peter’s in the opening round of last year’s tournament.
Expectations were high this year, too, with Kentucky ranked No. 4 in the AP preseason poll thanks to a mix of National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe’s return, talented newcomers, and a core of veterans.
But now the Wildcats are on the verge of another lost season following a report over the weekend from 247Sports that Texas reached out to Calipari through back channels. In response, the Kentucky head coach offered a boiler-plate denial.
“I haven’t talked to anybody. My concern right now is my guys, my team, and getting this right,” Calipari said. “I only want to talk about this job. I love this job. I love this group.”
Texas athletics director Chris Del Conte also denied contacting Calipari directly without addressing the much more likely possibility that someone associated with the Longhorns contacted someone associated with Calipari. Back channel, right?
Texas AD Chris Del Conte quashed rumors of contact with Kentucky's John Calipari. "That’s news to me. We’ve been focused on supporting Rodney Terry and our athletes. I have not had any discussions with anybody. That's way too premature, just Internet fodder."— Kirk Bohls (@kbohls) January 9, 2023
Classifying any potential interest between both sides is probably merely “internet fodder” at this early point in the search process for the Longhorns, but there’s no question that things are souring for Calipari in Lexington and he could be looking for a way out. The local newspaper recently asked the question of whether Calipari at Kentucky has run its course, citing a column from Gary Parrish of CBS Sports:
Has John Calipari’s time at Kentucky run its course?
According to Gary Parrish, that’s what a Calipari friend told the CBS Sports basketball columnist last summer. In a piece listing Cal as a potential candidate for the opening at Texas, Parrish recited the conversation. The friend said Cal should have taken the UCLA job in 2019. Said UK fans were frustrated and restless. Said “this thing at Kentucky has run its course.”
There are reasons for Calipari to weather the storm, at least for a little while longer — he’s set to make $8.5 million this year and next year as part of his so-called “lifetime contract,” has an opt-out in his clause that would allow him to take a job in the athletic department at $950,000 per year that kicks in after next season, and currently has the nation’s best recruiting class, led by No. 1 prospect DJ Wagner, the son of Dajuan Wagner, who played for Calipari at Memphis.
But Texas should also have concerns about hiring Calipari, who is 63 years old and could be nearing the end of his coaching career. The cost may not be prohibitive for the program, but luring Calipari away from Lexington might require a salary in line with the $10.2 million that Bill Self makes at Kansas. And while coaching a program without the outsized expectations at Kentucky might be appealing to Calipari, does he have the energy needed to build Texas into a regular power without the easy sell of playing for one of college basketball’s blue-blood programs?
Calipari-to-Texas might be merely internet fodder at the moment, there are plenty of hungry Longhorns waiting for developments in the search for Beard’s replacement and Wildcat fans are making sure they contribute to the haystack.