There might be nothing sweeter than a head coaching job at one of college basketball’s most accomplished programs - and that's what John Calipari has got at Kentucky.
Lifelong adulation from a dedicated fan base? Check. Sweet Nike (OK, sometimes Adidas) swag and free meals everywhere you go? Check. The opportunity to play for championships year after year?
Heck, if you’re lucky you might even get one of those sweet replica statues, like the one Nick Saban received after winning the second of his eventual-three titles.
It makes sense then that Calipari chose to keep his job as Kentucky head coach this week. Even if he had to turn down an NBA franchise to do so.
Calipari signed a seven-year-deal for $52 million to stay with his Wildcats, who have gone to the championship each of the last two years.
Before signing, he first denied overtures from the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were offering quite an offer.
Yahoo! Sports is reporting that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert offered him $60 million and complete autonomy over player hiring. Marc Stein of ESPN.com said the godfather deal was closer to $80 million over 10 years, plus Calipari would get the additional title of team president.
Still, the longtime college coach decided not to give it the old professional try. And after assessing the facts, it’s not hard to blame him.
Cleveland offered a lot of money. It also offered the chance to build a young star nucleus with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters - which could have also included an additional superstar after next year’s talent-laden free agency crop.
But Calipari has a lot of forward momentum in his current position, something that can’t be said for the Cavs.
Cleveland has struggled, not making the playoffs since Lebron James left in 2011. Calipari won the national championship with the Wildcats that same year.
But most importantly, Calipari has a system which annually draws the top recruits in the country. That means that he is virtually guaranteed to have the most-talented team every season.
And while that doesn’t always translate to a championship, it certainly sets his teams up for a lot of success. His decision also allows him to continue doing what he does best: recruit. Finally, there’s the fact that he’s been down this road.
He was hired in 1996 season as the head coach for another NBA team, the New Jersey Nets. He had his opportunities, particularly once the team made a blockbuster deal the next year, trading Tim Thomas for Keith Van Horn, Lucious Harris and two other role players.
That squad won 43 games and made the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference before losing to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the first round.
However, a 3-17 start to the 1998 season ended with Calipari’s ousting.
Flash forward 16 years, and Calipari is not in any hurry to take on the challenges of the NBA again, at least, not yet.
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