Tuesday, March 31, 2009

And Cal Taketh Away

photo: Commercial Appeal
Since my statcounter showed that my last post regarding basketball was the least read or commented upon in recent months, let's do another. I don't know whether to be sad or mad about this John Calipari situation, but here is a message I received on March 22nd from my cousin Bob who lives in Boston and, as a fan of Umass, has experienced this same drama before. I don't think he'll mind if I demonstrate his prescience.
Cousin Bob said...
For years, I've been advocating a rule change that would really make the fouling team think twice. Award the shooting team two points if the first foul shot is made for any foul committed in the last minute.
I usually agree with everything you write, but I wouldn't pop the champagne corks yet if i were a Memphis fan. No doubt the bad taste that remains from Calipari taking UMass far but ultimately nowhere, then skipping to the NBA (and to the Nets at that - it would be like leaving Gonzaga for the Grizzlies), makes it hard for me and many others in New England to root for a Coach Cal team. Which does not mean that I'm picking UConn, which (as Dan Shaughnassy pointed out the other day) might as well be on Long Island as far as Bostonians are concerned. I'd like to see Pitt win, and as for Louisville, if you think Calipari left a bad taste...
Keep up the great work, a sentiment seconded by Denise./Bob

I don't begrudge Coach Cal accepting the premier head coaching job at the University of Kentucky, but does he have to wreck the Memphis program on the way out the door? My understanding is that U of Memphis backers were prepared to match whatever lucrative offer made by Kentucky. The big dog, FedEx Fred Smith his ownself, went to visit Cal's home to convince him to stay. So, most likely, money wasn't the motivator. At some point, however, it would seem a coach whose star has already risen would ask himself how many times can you start over and at what price? Everything Cal could want was here for him in Memphis; a new arena, new on-campus practice facilities, a devoted fan base, a rich recruiting environment, plus all the money he would ever need to commit the remainder of his career to the university, and have the building named after him when he retired. Is the fame or respect so insufficient here that you need your name to be whispered in the same sentence with Adolph Rupp or John Wooden? Without question, Cal turned the U of M into one of the nation's elite basketball programs, but that elitism just caught the last plane out.

The pain of losing so dramatically in the NCAA tourney was assuaged by Cal's statement that Memphis was where he wanted to be, and that next year's recruiting class was ranked among the best in the country. Now, Cal leaves with the staff, the recruits, and the reason for the remaining players to want to stay here. After Memphis dominated the C-USA Conference for years, sports radio announcer George Lapides says that instead of competing again for a national title, the Tigers will be fortunate to finish in the conference's second tier next season. Kentucky gets their man, but Memphis fans get to see a wrecking ball taken to their beloved program and the resulting rubble will take years to clean up. John Calipari has become the George W. Bush of basketball. There is no questioning Cal's civic contributions to our city, and I'm sure he'll continue to do the same in Lexington, but to discover he "chased" vacant coaching jobs at Pittsburgh and St. John's in recent years confirms that nagging doubt that while Cal was our Dixie Chicken, his heart was always in the northeast.

Thirty-five million for six years at UK is one sweet deal and it will make Cal the highest paid coach in college basketball history. But what price can you place on the loyalty of the Memphis fans who, in these difficult times, were willing to pay whatever the cost to convince him to stay? After nine seasons, Cal understood that one of the remaining joys in this "Town Without Pity" is University of Memphis basketball, and he was the parade's Grand Marshall. Where is his loyalty in return? While watching this year's tournament, I couldn't help but take note that the most successful coaches in college basketball; Gary Williams at Maryland; Mike Krzyzewski at Duke; Jim Calhoun at Connecticut; Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, are coaches that have devoted decades to their respective institutions. Recently retired coaches like John Thompson and Cal's arch-enemy John Cheney, became famous for taking relatively small schools' basketball programs from obscurity to prominence. When Cal came to Memphis, he promised a national championship. We nearly got there, but he didn't deliver, especially in the final seconds of last year's championship game. But then, he made the same promise to UMass before he split for a dismal tenure in the pros. Will Kentucky be his final stop, or does Cal secretly want to be Pat Reilly? Same hair-do.

I suppose Cal deserves thanks for the nine exciting seasons he was here. He hit the gold-mine with his connection to Laurinburg Prep, the basketball preparatory institute who's starting five all came to Memphis. Season ticket costs plus the extortion to the Athletic Department were jacked up and television was limited, but Cal could sure recruit. Thanks for one year of DaJuan Wagner, who's Dad you hired to assure his attendance, and is now out of basketball after a stint in Poland. Thanks for one year of Derrick Rose, two for Darius Washington, and now one-and-done for National Freshman of the Year, Tyreke Evans, who said, "If he (Calipari) leaves, then I'm not staying." And thanks for sneaking away from Galloway Drive under the cover of night without saying a word to the fans who supported you, while simultaneously deserting the team who played for you. When I received the above message from Cousin Bob in Boston nine days ago, I initially felt it was just sour grapes. Now my own grapes are making me feel a bit queasy.

I am sure that John Calipari can resuscitate the storied Kentucky basketball program, yet I'm still reminded of a former Memphis coach, Gene Bartow, who didn't find UCLA nearly as hospitable as Memphis, nor as patient, and ended his career in Birmingham. Calipari was already a legend in Memphis. Now, he risks his legacy to reach for, what? So once again, the U of Memphis must start from scratch. According to my pal Billy in Florida, the quickest way to return to national attention is to recruit Michelle Obama's brother, Craig Robinson, now the head coach at Oregon State. He didn't have much of a season last year, but at least we'd have one very high-profile fan. But what prominent coach would want to come here to the OK Corral and play in a mediocre conference with a decimated team anyway? The answer may lie right in our own backyard; tanned, rested, experienced and ready. It's time to forgive and forget. Re-hire Dana Kirk.


Marvell said...

Randy, I love you dearly. Your insightful comments about many thing have made me a loyal fan.
But...Dana Kirk?!! You've got to be kidding!! I'm gonna give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that the Dana Kirk suggestion was purely a tongue-in-cheek remark proffered for it's provocative value just to get folks talking.

My considered opinion is that we should go after the only coach who has outcoached Cal every time he coached against him. With arguably lesser talent, he has given Cal the most consistent run for his money. And the last two times he played us, he beat us...former UAB and current Missouri coach Mike Anderson.

Let Cal do his thing in Kentucky.
We can debate his resume, his loyalty (or lack thereof), and any other subject while we cry in our beer, but to no avail. Cal is history. I won't go so far as to wish him luck at KU, but rebuilding is part of the game, so let's get on with it. It might not take as long as we think.


Anonymous said...

Channel 5 is reporting that Mike Anderson just signed a 7 yr. deal with Mizzou at 1.6 mil per year. That bit about Dana Kirk is a joke, right?

Cousin Bob said...

Looks like my 15 minutes of fame have arrived. Glad my comments were of some use, and good luck on finding a new coach./Bob

Anonymous said...

RC and I don't mean RC Cola, needs to down the drain go too. Hey, if your belly aching about the economic crisis, you just took another hit. Whats a season ticket worth now? Let's go ahead and have a complete house cleaning this spring.

I remain,

Basketball Jones

geno722 said...

I'm as depressed and unhappy about it as anyone, though I do understand - even though I know little about college basketball as a "business" - why this is happening. I do agree with the blogger who said Memphis would have kept him forever while in Kentucky he'll find himself jobless after one bad luck season. The Tigers have been the one thing that seemed to be going right in Memphis. Can't say the same for the Grizzlies, or for that matter the local political situation.

All of that said, we shouldn't begrudge him the desire to move up in his field, which apparently UK represents in the basketball world. Analogy: OK, so you're a Memphis musician, loyal to blues, BBQ and all things Memphis. Maybe moved here from somewhere else, but Memphis has been pretty good to you. You play all the musical opportunities there are here, which pretty much consist of Beale Street, a handful of suburban and regional pubs, and, if you're lucky, you get to play the better-paying weddings, conventions, and bar mitzvahs. You get an opportunity that requires you move to Nashville, which you swore you'd never do in that good ole Memphis-Nashville rivalry, but the gig once you get there is that you go on the road with, say, Vince Gill, and the perks include opportunities for good-paying sessions when Vince is not on the road. What would YOU do?

He's made his choice. Not unlike anybody who's ever left a job for supposedly greener pastures - and found themselves asking "WTF did I do?" - it will have to play out.

Meanwhile, we in Memphis need to quit feeling sorry for themselves -something we're really good at - and move on. In the last 24 hours I've heard Cal called a lot of unrepeatable names by true-blue Memphis Tigers fans, and I ain't happy about it either, but it raises the question... are we gonna let one monkey of a coach who's decided to satisfy his ego vs. being loyal to a place that's been quite loyal to him screw it all up? We've let Nashville leave us in the dust in so many other areas while we sat here feeling sorry for ourselves rather than doing whatever - oust the city mayor, consolidate the government, truly get tough on local crime - fill in your own blank - that it would take to make this a better place for all of us. Anybody remember that sign on the door of a now-defunct local pub that said, "NO whiners?"

Too bad UK is in a different conference. Nothing would be sweeter than for the "new" UK-Cal-coached team to go up against Memphis and get their a** beat!!!!

Anonymous said...

Calipari is just another mercenary whore like most coaches. Wave a few million in their face and they are gone, loyalty be damned. Their only loyalty is to themselves, period. They are the athletic equivalent of the capitalist pig. That being true, fuck them all. Develop other interests, because the next successful coach that Mmephis gets will do the same damn thing. It's kind of like marrying a whore. Do you really think that this syndrome will ever change?

Anonymous said...

A very real consideration in regard to Calipari's decision to leave Memphis may be Memphis' crime problem. This is not far-fetched at all. People are leaving Memphis in droves and the primary reason for many if not most is Memphis' horrific crime problem. It is not a safe place to live and anyone who is thinking about moving here, including a new Tiger coach, would have to take this into consideration.