Kentucky basketball has certainly had its highs and lows during John Calipari’s tenure leading the program, and it seems to be hitting a nadir in 2022–23.
The Wildcats are 10–6 on the season, falling to 1–3 in SEC play after a 71–68 loss to a middling South Carolina team. That came after a beatdown at the hands of Alabama over the weekend, 78–52.
With a rocky start to the 2022–23 season underway, calls for Kentucky to find a way to move on from Calipari have intensified. ESPN’s Dick Vitale caught wind of them but took to Twitter to come to Calipari’s defense on Wednesday, a day after the South Carolina loss.
“ALL those ripping @UKCoachCalipari RELAX – check his resume & what he has achieved at UK,” Vitale wrote. “We ALL would LOVE to be half as SUCCESSFUL! Cal is a HALL OF FAMER for a reason. Now @KentuckyMBB needs ❤️❤️❤️ & SUPPORT-UNITE not DIVIDE ! U will NOT get anyone BETTER! A TOUGH TOUGH JOB.”
There is some wisdom there—Kentucky hadn’t won a national title since 1998 when Calipari’s Wildcats cut down the nets in 2012. The coach he replaced, Billy Gillispie, managed just one NCAA tournament appearance—a first-round loss in 2008—and went 40–27 in two years at the program. Things can certainly be worse for one of college basketball’s blue bloods.
But that hasn’t stopped outcry over Calipari’s iron grip on the Wildcats’ job. The coach has a “lifetime contract” with the program—a 10-year deal worth $86 million with a massive buyout that pays out 75% of remaining compensation owed if Kentucky was to fire him without cause.
Kentucky hasn’t reached the Final Four since 2014–15, when it finished 38–1, losing to Wisconsin in the national semifinals and falling two games short of a perfect season. The team has made a pair of Elite Eights since, but missed the NCAA tournament entirely after going 9–16 in 2020–21, and was promising last season but fell in the Big Dance’s first round as a No. 2 seed to No. 15 upstart Saint Peter’s.
Kentucky fans are among the most intense in the sport, so it is not a huge surprise that they’re not taking the events of the last three seasons lightly.