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Why UK needs Coach Cal to step away from the Titanic

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John Calipari observing his team at Kentucky basketball practice at the Joe Craft Center.

I won’t spend any time talking about last night’s loss; there’s really not much to say about it. Another year, another disappointing postseason from Calipari’s Wildcats. Big Blue Nation is devastated, distraught, enraged, and ready for a change. Stealing from James Cameron’s Titanic, BBN could hear the violins playing after last night’s loss as it seemed the UK ship was sinking. Even though UK earned a 3-seed in the NCAAT, in some ways, today is a much lower point for the program than the 9-16 season. So, it begs the question, where does UK go from here? Does the University itself want to part ways from Cal? Can the University even financially afford to do so? There’s a $33 million dollar hurdle to overcome…

The Buy-out concern

As it stands today, Calipari would be owed around $33 million dollars if UK were to fire him. As successful of a national brand as UK is, the university can’t afford a $33 million buyout. If choosing to go that route though, then how much money does UK have to pay the replacement coach? The finances behind a Cal-removal is of major concern, it’s quite the burden. If UK were to part ways with Cal, they would owe him the remainder of his contract. That is $33 million, rumored to be paid across 5 years. That raises major concerns for how much UK can afford to pay the next UK coach. By the way, shoutout to AD Mitch Barnhart for putting UK in such a terrible situation with Cal’s “lifetime contract.” There’s a real chance that Cal’s impending demise will drag Barnhart through the mud as well. But I digress…

Coach Cal needs to walk away

Cal needs to walk away on his own. UK isn’t going to pay the massive buyout. I don’t see any possibility that Coach Cal sits down with Barnhart to re-structure his current contract. Cal needs to walk away. UK has paid him an INSANE amount of money in his tenure here. He owes a great deal to this university. His only national championship was here in the Bluegrass. His books, shows, foundation, his new podcast: all launched at UK. He has accomplished a great deal here, but also owes a great deal to UK and its fanbase. So, he needs to save UK the cost of the buyout. He needs to save UK the fanbase turmoil and division. He needs to save UK the financial obstacle of hiring the next UK coach. Cal’s ego be damned, he needs to walk away before his tenure at UK parallels the Titanic’s demise.

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Can Coach Cal and AD Barnhart make it work?

I fully expect Cal and Mitch to have a meeting, of sorts at least. It’s well known that Cal and Mitch don’t have a great relationship. But Mitch won’t stray away from this impending iceberg. He has to lead, has to make difficult decisions. Mitch and Cal need to have a face-to-face difficult conversation in the immediate future. But to me, the best avenue is Cal to walk away. If there’s a chance to mediate some kind of negotiated lower-buyout, perfect. But short of that, Cal owes it to the university, the fanbase, and the future of the program to walk away now.

Kentucky hasn't meet expectations the last four seasons under John Calipari. Is it time for him to go?

Men's Basketball

Rick Pitino Endorses Mark Pope, “He Will Lead The Kentucky Wildcats To Another Championship”

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Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports/ Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The captain of Rick Pitino’s 1996 “Untouchables”, Mark Pope, is “coming home” to lead the Kentucky Wildcats as the program’s next head coach, officially announced on Friday. While there has been some criticism of the hire, Pitino says he “couldn’t be any prouder to see Mark Pope lead the Kentucky Wildcats.”

While Pope has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game in two appearances, Pitino points out that several top coaches had their trials early in their careers. It took Jay Wright 11 seasons to win his first NCAA Tournament, and Billy Donovan was hired at Florida without an NCAA Tournament appearance. However, he heralds Pope as one of the “premier young coaches” in college basketball.

“Offensively, no one does it better,” Pitino said. “The way his teams move. The way his teams shoot the three. The ball movement. It’s outstanding.”

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It’s just the X’s and O’s though, Pitino “guarantees” that Pope loves and understands the program as well as anyone. “I can guarantee to you one thing, that nobody epitomizes the name on the front of the jersey more than Mark Pope.”

“Mark Pope will go on to greatness. You can put it down,” Pitino said. “He will do you proud. “He will lead the Kentucky Wildcats to another championship”

If his endorsement isn’t enough, Rick Pitino says he will “write the check himself” for NIL to help Pope be successful.

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Men's Basketball

Mark Pope Releases Statement As He Is Announced As Kentucky Basketball Coach

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Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Per UK Athletics

When his alma mater came calling, Mark Pope knew there was no place like home.

Pope, a captain of the University of Kentucky’s 1996 National Championship team, has returned to Lexington as the 23rd head coach of Kentucky’s storied men’s basketball program, announced Friday.

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“The University of Kentucky is the pinnacle of coaching in college basketball,” Pope said. “It’s the definition of a blueblood program where hanging a banner is the expectation every year. Equally as important, UK changed my life forever as a human being. The love and passion I have for this program, this University and the people of the Commonwealth goes to the depth of my soul.”

“I’m thankful to Dr. (Eli) Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity. I’m proud to be your next head coach and I can’t wait to do this together!”

Pope is a nine-year head coaching veteran with stops at BYU and Utah Valley, amassing a 187-108 career record. His squads won 20 or more games in six of the last seven seasons and he has made six postseason appearances.

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Men's Basketball

REPORT: Mark Pope Set Sign Five-Year Deal to Become Next Kentucky Basketball Coach

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Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky has found their guy. Former Wildcat and NCAA Champion, Mark Pope, is now expected to be named the next Kentucky basketball coach on a five-year contract worth $5.5 million annually, first reported by CBS Sports. For perspective, based on last season’s salaries, that is more than Dan Hurley (UConn), Scott Drew (Baylor), and Nate Oats (Alabama).

Pope comes to Kentucky with nine seasons of head coaching experience, after serving as an assistant for six seasons, from 2009-2015. In 2015, he was hired by Utah Valley where he coached for four seasons. In 2019, Pope was hired at BYU where he has taken them to two NCAA Tournaments, but has been upset by a double-digit seed in both appearances.

Pope has proven himself as a good X-and-O coach in his nine-year career, running one of the most innovative offenses in the country, but recruiting will be a real test as he has never signed a four-star recruit. Who he hires on to his staff and collecting NIL support will be critical.

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The move has been met with much fan criticism, as fans have been quick to point out that Pope has never won a conference title or an NCAA Tournament game. However, Mitch Barnhart is confident in the move, with some reporting that he is “excited” with the hire.

Just three days into the coaching search, this is an interesting hire with several big names like Billy Donovan and Bruce Pearl potentially available. Barnhart made the decision not to wait for Donovan, who is currently coaching the Chicago Bulls, and Pearl was not considered due to his “baggage”.

A new era of Kentucky basketball has begun.

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