That’s not a chance for Mark Stoops’ football program, which this week is ranked in the AP preseason poll for the first time since 1978. Stoops has done an excellent job building things up and delivering his second season 10-3. last year.
However, Kentucky remains a basketball school, one with eight national championships and a high level of expectation.
That’s exactly why Calipari needs to deliver another national title, which would be his second, to Lexington this year or next. It seems that he will have enough talent to do just that.
Is that an incredibly high bar for success? Of course it is. A couple of Final Fours would probably placate the masses. Maybe.
But that’s what makes it a basketball school. Good is not good enough. Considering the roster Calipari has to work with and the fact that his team hasn’t won a national title in 11 seasons, there should be a desperate urgency surrounding the squad. And that’s before adding a 9-16 season in 2020-21 and an NCAA first-round exit at the hands of Saint Peter’s last year.
No one knows this better than Calipari, who has never lowered expectations or shied away from the fiercest recruiting battles or tried to downplay the show’s immense story and power.
His comments last week about being a basketball school and expecting Kentucky to continue to invest in the program as such — that is, building a new practice facility and museum — were based on that thought. This sport is important, so the school cannot lag behind other schools where it is also important.
Where things went wrong, either on purpose or awkwardly, depending on whether you believe Calipari, was when he mentioned the football program.
“This is a basketball school,” Calipari told The Athletic last week. “It has always been like this. “Alabama is a football school. Georgia too. I mean, they are. No disrespect to our football team. Hopefully they win 10 games and go bowling…
“But this is a basketball school,” he continued. “So we need to keep moving in that direction and keep doing what we’re doing.”
Football coach Mark Stoops objected to the comments. So did athletic director Mitch Barnhart. It’s okay. Calipari was wrong to compare British football to any other programme. He has recognized it. And passive-aggressive lines like “win 10 games” and thus implying that UK football is a second-tier program at best didn’t help his cause. Stoops apparently doesn’t return his calls.
Still, if Barnhart is smart, he’ll pay attention to Calipari’s wishes, or at least perspective, no matter how poorly worded they are. If Cal feels like his show is being ignored, then that’s a problem. At the very least, this should have been handled, quietly, as Barnhard no doubt prefers, a long time ago.
“I’m not really excited about where we are,” Barnhart said. “Adults are going to have to figure this out and be a little better.”
He then added comments apparently directed at Calipari: “Sometimes when you have a little bit of success, you have a little bit of entitlement. we’ll be thankfull [athletic] Department. We will not have the right.”
oh boy. This is not likely to be alleviated by a brief staff meeting.
That means Calipari needs to win big this year even more than before. Based on his team’s play during a series of exhibition games last weekend in the Bahamas, he certainly has players. The Wildcats look deep, long and athletic with Oscar Tshiebwe, the returning National Player of the Year.
Meanwhile, Calipari has verbal commitments from two players in the top five in the Class of 2023, Justin Edwards and Robert Dillingham, and a real shot still with DaJuan Wagner Jr. and Aaron Bradshaw.
One could argue that the recruiting success demonstrates that Calipari doesn’t need a new practice facility to keep attracting big players to Lexington: Barnhart called the 15-year-old Craft Center “state of the art.” It’s certainly amazing, but a trainer’s job to make sure the program doesn’t get left behind and the facility arms race is relentless.
Either way, Calipari needs another national title to remind Wildcat fans and managers of what he has brought to the show. No, he didn’t build it like Stoops, who joked about how his program “didn’t wake up at third base.” But the UK had faded during the end of the Tubby Smith era and continued during Billy Gillispie’s two-year spell.
Calipari reinvigorated it and brought a parade of otherworldly talent to town. Should I have another title or two? Of course. The 2014-15 team that started 38-0 could suffer more. But he has been good in the UK and the standard isn’t to win mid-tier bowl games or rack up records on weak non-conference boards.
Stoops should be proud of what he has done. Kentucky football is legit now and not long ago, that seemed impossible. Calipari should apologize for dragging him into what looks like a financial battle between coach and management.
Then Coach Cal should go show what his show is all about and what winning it all is all about. Soon.
That’s how all of this is put to rest. Perhaps the only way.