Kentucky basketball: Does Calipari deserve more money?


How can Rick Pitino be making more money than John Calipari?

Last week, this question could have been posed and it could have been argued emphatically.  Since Calipari seized the Wildcat helm in the summer of 2009, Kentucky has defeated Louisville in six out of the seven times the two teams have met, including once in the Final Four and once in the Sweet 16.

Today, that question has been answered by the University of Kentucky. The university’s answer is articulate, explanatory and lengthy.  After analyzing the statement made by UK, the answer can only be transcribed as:


According to his employer, Calipari should be paid more than Pitino. Calipari received a seven-year, $52.5 million contract extension to be the head coach of Kentucky basketball through the 2021 season earlier this week.  By the end of the lengthened deal, Calipari will be making more than $8 million per year.  This means more top-recruiting classes, more tweaking and more wins against Louisville.

Calipari just catapulted past Pitino to become the second-highest paid coach in college basketball.  If money grew on trees, only one coach would rake a bigger pile of leaf dollars every year than the two men who brought glory back to Kentucky basketball.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has the most wins in NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball history.  Krzyzewski has led the Blue Devils inmike-krzyzewski-duke-nets-405jpgjpg-14d697e399acbe55_large each of its four national championship-winning seasons.  Krzyzewski’s accomplishments could be enough to cement his legacy as one of the top-three best coaches of all time.

However, since 2011 only one coach has taken his team to three Final Fours.  Only one coach has recruited the top class in four of the last six seasons.  Just one coach has the capability to not only lead his team to glory, but lead 17 players to the NBA in the past five years.

That coach is not K.  He is Cal.

In the “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” contest, Calipari defeats Coach K.  Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils have been eliminated in the first round in two of the last three years and in those same years, Cal’s Wildcats have reached the title game.

Determining the value of a coach is just like any other venture for a business.

Inflation is rising and as indicated by the cost of gasoline, the price of seemingly everything is skyrocketing.  On a grand scale, the Los Angeles Clippers, the former punch line of the NBA, were just bought for $2 billion because of what the organization has done in the last two years and especially, because of what its future holds.

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In the social media realm, Myspace was an incredibly popular website six years ago, but now Twitter and Facebook have the bulging wallets and Myspace is clinging to its last top friend for financial life.  With the exception of Kobe Bryant, professional athletes are, like many employees and advertisement-seeking websites, financially compensated by what they did in recent memory and what they could do in the future.

Tracy McGrady was once one of the highest-paid players in the league, but during his swan song season McGrady made a little more than $10,000 for the San Antonio Spurs. In a world where CEOs continue to receive absurdly-high salaries based on recent consistency and a promising future, why should Coach K be paid more than Calipari?

To play blue devil’s advocate, Krzyzewski did not only revolutionize and enhance Duke basketball, but he also won the national title in 2010.  Even though that championship run could be considered one of the easiest of all time —which is a testament to the team’s play that earned them the one seed, as well as an obvious slight by a Kentucky basketball writer —Krzyzewski still has just as many championships in the last five seasons as Calipari.1129780-john-calipari-why-hes-the-model-college-hoops-coach-of-the-21st-century_crop_exact

But a contract extension is more than just a reward for recent success.  Lengthening a contract means the employer trusts that the coach will achieve and possibly dominate in the future.  Given recent recruiting trends that have translated to deep tournament runs, Calipari would undoubtedly win the “most likely to succeed” award in his coaching class.

Like Alabama coach Nick Saban’s attempt to join in on the dual-threat quarterback trend, Coach K is now recruiting “one-and-dones.”  Last year’s Duke Fighting Jabaris squad may have proved that coaching one-year players could be a challenge for the traditional-style Krzyzewski.  Meanwhile, Calipari has proven to be the master of managing NBA-ready freshmen and finally has the opportunity to coach the mythical creatures that are upperclassmen next season.

Keep in mind, the question I posed does not regard who is the better coach between the two, who has more accolades or who has better hair—Coach K is 67 and swears he is dye-free.  Tougher argument than meets the eye—the question is, should Calipari deserve to be the highest-paid coach in college basketball?calipari

Another championship season could completely sway public opinion toward Calipari, but for now, Coach K may deserve the title.  Krzyzewski has led Team USA to two gold medals, was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001 and appears ready to coach for another five years.

If the timeless Coach K ever does decide to retire, one coach will have to take his place as the highest-paid coach in college basketball.  By the time you finish reading this sentence, Pitino could have restructured his deal with Louisville to become No. 2 behind Coach K once again, but as of June 7, 2014, Calipari is second in demand.

Calipari is in high demand because few coaches can win the way he wins.  Some basketball fans and analysts inexplicably believe college basketball coaches fall under two categories: good coach or good recruiter.  UK clearly believes Calipari falls under both and after last year’s late-season turnaround, everyone else should believe as well.  Calipari earned this extension because of what he has done in the last five years and what he is going to do in the next seven.

Coach K did not win his first NCAA championship until his 11th season with Duke.  John Wooden did not win his first NCAA championship until his 16th season with UCLA.  Even Adolph Rupp, the man who created the Big Blue Nation, won his first NCAA title during his 18th season.

Calipari brought a championship to the Wildcats after just his third season as head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats.  In five years, Cal may not only be the highest-paid coach in college basketball history.

He could be the best.

  • Bobby Allison

    I don’t disagree that Calipari is doing a fantastic job. But . . . Though it’s a futile argument, I don’t think any coach “deserves” that much money from a state-supported educational entity. There should be maximum salaries since every dollar coaches get could have gone back into the school’s true mission. If the basketball program turns a huge profit, that should be churned back into the school to keep down costs, pay professors, and avoid tuition hikes year after year. Instead, UK is losing full faculty positions, raising tuition, and begging for state help to renovate Rupp Arena. Priorities, priorities.

    • Internet Winner

      Well, if Cal’s salary was from a state supported revenue stream, then you’d have a point. Since it isn’t, you don’t. Athletics funding and most especially coach’s salary are paid predominantly by a separate pot of money that isn’t part of state supported dollars. Acting like Cal’s salary is going to cost someone a scholarship or not let the university buy desks or textbooks is incredible incorrect and rediculous.

      • Bobby Allison

        I’m afraid I didn’t articulate my point well enough. I’m trying to say that the connection between a school and it’s sports teams is like a partnership. The school lends it identity and legitimizes the activity. In return, the program should give a return for that intangible investment by sending as much back as possible for the schools core purpose. Basically, I’m asking what’s more important- students or athletes for a university? The balance should be maintained in favor of education or the athletic department gets whatever it wants and the students and parents pay more for less. For students, that extra % tuition IS like a tax. One that could be reduced by a successful athletic program.