Calipari hiring bad news for SEC


Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 1:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 1:57 p.m.

As Homer Simpson said in “The Simpsons Movie” after watching Itchy and Scratchy on the big screen, “Boooorrring.”

That’s how I feel about what is usually one of my favorite things to watch, the NCAA Tournament. March Madness? More like March Nap-ness. I found myself watching a movie last weekend while an Elite Eight game was being played because the outcome was so obvious.

We have had 17 games out of 60 decided by five points or less. By contrast, 38 of the games have been decided by double digits. The average margin of victory has been 12.85 points.

Fortunately, we have the sideshow to keep us entertained.

The sideshow has been Kentucky, which is never the sideshow. Instead, the spotlight always shines on the Wildcat basketball program. That was before BillyGillispie’s reign of nausea. Memo to Billy G: You can be a jerk as long as you win a lot.

As we have watched the Big Dance -- sometimes between Tiger Woods’ shots -- the ‘Cats have been dancing to a different song. And it’s Reel Big Fish’s “Sell Out.”

Mitch Barnhart screwed up the last hire so badly, he had no trouble selling his soul. Kentucky fans were introduced to their fantasy hire on April Fool’s Day. JohnCalipari is everything they want. He’s charismatic, hard-working, he can recruit like a maniac and he apparently is willing to sign his contract.

Funny, but two years ago when the UK fans drove Tubby Smith to the cold winds of Minnesota, Barnhart didn’t consider even calling Calipari. The baggage was too heavy. But these are desperate times, especially for the Kentucky athletic director.

So he made a desperate move. He’ll get the bags.

He is willing to put blinders on so he can’t see the vacated Final Four at UMass or the questionable recruiting tactics or the constant behavior issues at Memphis. Kentucky wants to see the cake and doesn’t care about the ingredients.

That’s not to say this was a bad hire. Instead, it was the only hire.

There is nobody else, except for Billy Donovan who was not interested, that Kentucky could have hired. After two years of Gillispie’s utter disdain for anyone not on his practice floor, Kentucky needed a guy with a personality. A guy who enjoys being around the media and fans. A guy who is insecure enough about his legacy to embrace the job.

For Calipari, he may say he had a hard time leaving Memphis but don’t believe him. He’s always been a guy standing in line at the club looking in through the velvet ropes to see what’s going on at the real conferences. He’s had to beg for TV games. He won’t have to beg at Kentucky.

Now, I have a confession to make. Kentucky basketball is a guilty pleasure of mine. Oh, it’s not like I run around in UK wear or root for the Wildcats. The guilty pleasure is in watching their fans react to losses or setbacks. There is a line that shouldn’t be crossed by fans, a line that separates rabid from idiotic. You know you’ve crossed that line when you’re not only convinced the officials are out to get you but the announcers, cameramen and the guy selling popcorn are also plotting to bring your team down.

Certainly, there are a lot of Florida football fans over that line. About 90 percent of the Big Blue faithful are not only over that line they can’t remember the last time they saw it.

So the last few seasons have been entertaining. Now this. Barnhart sells his soul and saves his job. UK fans are ecstatic. He’s their Coach Cal now. So what if he pushes the envelope? As long as it doesn’t bust open and money spills out like it did in 1988 (see: Chris Mills, Emery Air).

The bad news for the rest of the SEC is that Calipari will win and win a lot at Kentucky. The most interesting thing will be to see which SEC coach turns him in for shady recruiting. In Conference USA, the coaches would all look the other way becauseCalipari was all the conference had. In the SEC, where young have been known to be eaten, it will be different.

It will be different in conference play as well. But Calipari knows how to coach and he will get talent like we haven’t seen at OK since the days of Rick Pitino. Certainly, he’ll bring along player broker William Wesley, also known as Worldwide Wes, to Lexington. He has delivered all kinds of talent to Calipari at Memphis. Worldwide Wes will rank second in hierarchy at UK, just behind Calipari and ahead of Rich Brooks.

Is Calipari worth the money? Yes, because that’s what it took to get him there.

Is it a risk? Yep, but the Gillispie Era left Kentucky no choice.

Is it a desperate move? Reeking.

For Wildcat fans, there will be a lot more to cheer about. For those of us who are entertained by their misery, this could be the end of it for awhile.

I just hope I’m there the night Worldwide Wes explains to one of those blue-bloods at courtside that this is now hisseat.

Contact Pat Dooley at 374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com.

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