The goal for John Calipari has always been to make it back to the NBA and be successful, so it should come as no surprise that, after winning a national title with Kentucky this season, Cal’s attention would start to shift upwards.
And as Adrian Wojnarowski writes, the team that currently has Cal’s eye is the New York Knicks. I’m not going to try and tell you that I have any inside information on this decision or know more about than what I just read myself. Eventually, Cal’s decision will be known and he will either have managed to work a raise out of the folks at Kentucky or he’ll be off coaching at a level where it actually it acceptable to pay the players.
Honestly, that doesn’t interest me.
What I find fascinating is figuring out who Kentucky hires to replace him.
Calipari is absolutely perfect for the Kentucky job in every single way. He’s got a larger-than-life personality and he’s charismatic with a great sense of humor. He wins every press conference and he knows how to stoke the flames of the country’s most passionate and demanding fan base. More importantly, he is able to bring in the kind of talent that Kentucky fans require. Even if Cal had lost on Monday night, he would continue to bring in recruiting classes good enough to keep his program at or near the top of the rankings.
Whoever comes in after Cal is going to have nearly impossible expectations to live up to. The two questions that would need to be answered: Who would be able to deal with those expectations, and who would actually want to?
Is Brad Stevens or Shaka Smart going to go to a place where they have to live and die with one-and-done freshmen, a place where Billy Gillispie went from talented up-and-comer to train wreck in the span of two years? Will Billy Donovan be willing to leave Florida to go to Kentucky, where he will be on the other side of a fierce rivalry with Rick Pitino? Would Tom Izzo actually leave Michigan State? Would Buzz Williams leave Marquette? Can Jamie Dixon have better success at a blue-blood program than Ben Howland? If Josh Pastner is struggling to handle pressure at Memphis, what would happen to him in the Commonwealth? I honestly cannot picture any of the biggest names — Bill Self, Roy Williams, Coach K, Jim Boeheim, etc. — even considering the move.
So how about this for a name: Sean Miller. He’s proven that he can bring in talent with the recruiting classes that he has signed at Arizona, even if he still needs to learn how to get them to play more together. He’s not Calipari — no one will be — but Miller wouldn’t be a bad option.
If Calipari does end up leaving for the NBA with, in all likelihood, the majority of his title-winning rotation, Kentucky is going to have a tough time finding a suitable replacement.