Wednesday, April 1, 2009

John Calipari: Following Nick Saban's Lead Right Down to the Conference

Kentucky basketball is screwed.

Maybe not this year, maybe not next year, maybe not for many years down the road. But the check is already in the mail—the only question is how long its transit time will be.

"I want to be here. This is where I want to coach."

Those were John Calipari's own words soon after his Memphis Tigers were eliminated from the NCAA tournament when questioned on rumors of his jump to the University of Kentucky. He went so far as to dismiss the whispers as just your typical postseason carousel speculation that fans of major programs hear every year.

"Our fans, I think, have gotten used to it."

Yeah, you know what else college fans have gotten used to?

Bald-faced, through-your-teeth, pants-afire liars.

And handing our athletically gifted teenagers over to them for "guidance."

People like Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino jump to mind, but the college ranks of job-hoppers are swelled by more than just these two men (and now Calipari). Who knows how many unaired, yet equally explicit promises have been broken as guys bounce from one big payday to the next biggest one on the rung?

You can say that none of the above were lying, that they really did want to stay where they were and couldn't envision leaving. To which, my response would be, sell that [expletive] somewhere else.

Hey, these "men" aren't totally dumb—they know the name of the game and the game is always looking for greener pastures. So either these pubescent adults were lying to the public or themselves and I"m not sure which is more dangerous.

Granted, not all coaches are dishonest—some stay true to their word and give it sparingly.

And not all of the snakes will get caught. The real world doesn't work in absolutes although it makes for a nice opening hook to, say, an online article.

In fact, the percentage of despicable college coaches probably lands well short of even 70 percent.

But should we tolerate business as usual if only a third of coaches are crooked as a dog's hind leg? Maybe, unless your kid happens to be considering a school and, thusly, the sway of one such reprehensible individual.

After all, when it's your kid's athletic and psychological maturation at stake, one in three looks a damn sight more perilous.

Furthermore, what are the chances that other coaches see the examples set by guys like Calipari/Saban and think it's a bad idea? These are two highly successful and well-compensated coaches, it wouldn't appear their conduct has hurt their prospects or reputations in the slightest.

Saban just won Coach of the Year and is raking it in at Alabama.

Meanwhile, Calipari just got over $30 million from a public institution in an economy that's seeing HUGE pillars of this country's financial infrastructure crumble in a matter of months.

(Quick digression: Petrino's at Arkansas, why is it the SEC that keeps loving the scoundrels?)

Shoot, judging from these guys and others, maybe sleazing your way from job to job is a good idea. A strategy best emulated rather than avoided.

So where is the justice?

For the individuals? Justice rarely comes or it happens privately. If a guy like Petrino ever does get his comeuppance, there's a very good chance we'll have stopped paying attention and he'll never volunteer it.

Unfortunately for the fans and the players, the public vindication befalls the universities that choose to employ and richly reward men who have demonstrated a willingness to chase whatever is in their best interest to the detriment of anyone in his universe.

Men who have a proven ease and comfort with deception that wouldn't sit well with me if I were entrusting them with the relatively fragile minds and psyches of a portion of America's youth. Not if I were entrusting them with that profound responsibility and then giving them millions of dollars to do it.

Do you think a man who would come on air, reassure a rabid and wounded fanbase that he's not going anywhere, and then leave within a week would have a problem breaking an NCAA regulation here or there?

Think that guy's gonna totally respect the number of phone calls and text messages you can send to a recruit? Or any other of the thousands of little technicalities that, superficially, look impossible to patrol?

The snag, of course, is the details are NOT impossible to regulate—programs get flagged every year.

Unfortunately, the coach usually isn't the one paying because he has moved on (or easily can). It's the fans, the current players, and the other people connected to the school with more permanence that suffer the true indignation of having wins stripped or scholarships yanked or probation imposed or some other disciplinary sanction.

Nah, the coaches can usually skate—it's everyone else who feels the sting.

Now, let me clarify that I have no problem with moving around as long as you're up front about it. I wouldn't be writing this if Calipari had said, "yep, going to UK is a real possibility," or "we'll see what happens," or even, "there's a small chance, but I like it here."

Any of the three would be the way an admirable leader should answer because such a person should know there will be public outcry no matter what—that is the nature of being in the spotlight and answering difficult questions.

The easy road is the one you can hide from by dealing with it remotely i.e. by lying to delay it until you are safely ensconced in supporters of the program benefited by your move.

The right one is to treat those connected to the program with the respect and integrity they deserve. The right one is the honest answer, which first requires that you're honest with yourself.

And Kentucky just landed an expert in deception. So good luck with all that.

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