Calipari poised for move to Kentucky - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Calipari poised for move to Kentucky

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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - The University of Memphis gave Kentucky permission Monday to speak to John Calipari about the Wildcats' head coaching position, then made a final push to try to keep the coach.

Late Monday afternoon, sources told Action News 5's Jarvis Greer that Calipari will leave the Tigers to take the job of head coach at the University of Kentucky.

Kentucky is looking for a replacement for former basketball head coach Billy Gillispie, who was fired Friday.

Kentucky reportedly offered a whopping $6.67 million per season to Calipari, an NCAA record for a head coach in any sport.  Rivals.com reported Calipari rejected a counter-offer from the University of Memphis of $5 million per season.

Some of Memphis' key boosters met with Calipari on Monday. But one booster expects Calipari to go to Kentucky, though the person, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing negotiations, acknowledged the coach was torn between the two great opportunities.

Rumorsa of Calipari's possible move to Kentucky hit a fever pitch Monday morning.  In a report on ESPN.com, Andy Katz reported Calipari spent Sunday meeting with Kentucky officials about their head coach position at an undisclosed location.  Katz reported Calipari was given an outline on the length of a possible deal, including contract dollars.

Meanwhile, the Commercial Appeal reported Calipari met with players Monday morning to discuss his involvement with the Kentucky opening, hinting he would take the job. A source told the newspaper players left the meeting convinced Calipari would take the Kentucky job, saying the coach told the team Kentucky was the Notre Dame of basketball.

In a written statement issued just before noon, Tiger athletic director R.C. Johnson said the University of Memphis has granted Kentucky permission to talk to Calipari about the position.

"We have given Kentucky permission to talk with John (Calipari) about their position," Johnson said in the statement. "However, I will tell you that we are elated with the job John has done as our head coach and we will do everything in our power to retain his services at Memphis."

Calipari just concluded his ninth season at Memphis and has a 137-14 record over the past four seasons in which the Tigers were the only team to earn either a No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. He guided Memphis to a national runner-up finish last season, and the Tigers (33-4) were ousted in the West Regional semifinal on Thursday night.

He currently has the top-rated recruiting class in the country headed to Memphis, but his latest recruit 6-foot-10 DeMarcus Cousins committed verbally within the past month and could follow Calipari to Kentucky if the coach leaves.

One of college basketball's most ardent fan bases, Kentucky fans seemed electrified by the possibility of getting Calipari. A Facebook group called "Bring John Calipari to UK" had swelled to more than 9,000 members as of Monday afternoon while a popular Kentucky message board had over 15,000 people on it during the lunch hour.

Barnhart stressed the need for finding a coach who can embrace all the things that come with leading college basketball's winningest program. Gillispie went just 40-27 in two seasons and seemed uncomfortable with the celebrity that came with the job.

Calipari, never one to shy away from a camera, would seem to have the charisma to match Louisville coach Rick Pitino. Pitino was named the Wildcats coach 20 years ago, winning a national championship in eight seasons at Kentucky.

Pitino and Calipari used to spar when the Cardinals battled the Tigers in Conference USA. Having two of the nation's most high-profile coaches 70 miles apart could add another layer to one of the country's most bitter rivalries.

The two met in the 1996 Final Four when Pitino was at Kentucky and Calipari was at Massachusetts. The Wildcats won 81-74 on their way to a sixth national championship.

Pitino left for the NBA a year later, and Kentucky has been in steady - if small - decline ever since.

Gillispie was hired to bring some of the swagger back and instead the Wildcats failed to make the NCAA tournament this year for the first time since 1991. He was let go last week after Barnhart said the match of coach and program wasn't a "good fit."

Barnhart stressed the need to find a leader who can thrive under the unique spotlight coaching the Wildcats provides. Calipari doesn't lack for charm, though his past NCAA transgressions could be problematic for a program still sensitive of its image following the recruiting scandal left behind by Eddie Sutton in the late-1980s.

Massachusetts had to vacate its '96 Final Four appearance after star Marcus Camby admitted to accepting gifts from a sports agent.

Calipari moved on to the NBA before landing at Memphis in 2000. The Tigers have not had any troubles during his tenure while developing into a national powerhouse.

Kentucky, however, is hardly the first program to flirt with Calipari, who often has received a bigger paycheck from Memphis as a result of the interest.

He signed a contract extension in April 2008 that pushed his deal through the 2012-13 season giving him a $500,000 a year raise with a $5 million bonus if he finishes the contract. That pushed his annual salary to $2.35 million.

He got that deal after taking Memphis to an NCAA Division I record 38 wins and the national championship game - the program's first Final Four since 1985 and first NCAA final since 1973. The

"What this contract has done is wiped out 99 percent of that stuff, and I told them that I appreciate that. It's not only the base salary, but it's also the longevity bonus which wipes out the others. There are no other places. This is the place," Calipari said at a news conference when the contract was signed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

We want to know what you think - will Coach Cal go to Kentucky?  Let us know by voting in our web poll.

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