Coverage on Calipari's hiring from:
The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal - 3/12
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Other articles from:
The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal - 3/5
The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal - 2/27


Calipari vows to win, fill Pyramid seats
By Zack McMillin, The Commercial Appeal, 3/12/2000

John Calipari began what he hopes will become a ``love affair'' with the city of Memphis on Saturday when he was introduced as the University of Memphis's 16th men's basketball coach.

Calipari, 41, vowed to build the kind of winning program that can fill The Pyramid, embracing the challenge of returning the U of M to national basketball prominence.

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John Calipari speaks to the Memphis media.
``I just want you all to know that we, my family, feel very lucky to have this opportunity,'' Calipari said at an afternoon press conference at The Pyramid. ``It's not the other way around for us. We feel lucky because we're going to have the opportunity to get this program to another level, to challenge the players and to get the fan base to where we expect sellouts.''

Calipari spoke to around 50 members of the media in the spacious press interview room set up for the Conference USA Tournament, with another 150 or so fans crowding into the room to hear the former University of Massachusetts and New Jersey Nets coach.

With his wife, Ellen, and three children Erin (13), Megan (10) and Bradley (3) sitting in the front row, Calipari outlined his vision for making the U of M a program with national credentials.

The press conference was carried live on local television.

``This is not going to be easy,'' Calipari said. ``This is not like, `let's just waltz to the Final Four.' That's not what happens. This is a challenge, but, see, I get excited about these kinds of challenges.

``This is a different kind of challenge. There are a lot of things here that are already in place.''

Calipari coached his final game as an assistant for the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night against the Knicks. U of M athletic director R. C. Johnson and his wife, Melba, flew to Philadelphia early Saturday to pick up the Calipari family, with the private jet landing in Memphis around 1:30 p.m.

The family arrived at The Pyramid around 2:40 p.m., and met with U of M players Marcus Moody, Shamel Jones and Paris London in the Tiger locker room. Calipari's family left the locker room for the press room while he stayed behind to sign his contract.

The five-year deal is worth a total financial package of $550,000 annually, with a buyout clause of $550,000 in effect for the first three years. Incentives built into the contract can make it worth $930,000 annually, and Calipari can receive revenue from camps run using university facilities.

Private donors will cover the incentives, which include things like having the best conference record ($10,000), national coach of the year award ($25,000), an NCAA Tournament bid ($20,000), a trip to the Final Four ($100,000).

Calipari takes over the program from interim coach Johnny Jones, who told the players on Friday that he was not staying on as coach. Jones coached the team to a 15-16 record this season after the Nov. 14 resignation of former coach Tic Price.

Price's total package was worth $400,000, without any incentives.

In eight seasons at UMass, Calipari took a program that had suffered 10 straight losing seasons to two NIT and five straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including to the 1996 Final Four. His record at UMass was 193-71 (a .731 winning percentage), and the Minutemen won 20 games for six consecutive seasons.

Calipari was the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year three times, and was the 1996 Naismith National Coach of the Year and The Sporting News Coach of the Year.

He had mixed success as head coach and executive vice-president of the New Jersey Nets, taking the team to the playoffs in 1998 before being fired after opening last season 3-17.

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``When we started this search, I had said our goals were very simple,'' Johnson said. ``We wanted to be the very best we could be. In order to do that you have to find someone who has experience, someone who has enjoyed success and someone who is knowledgeable and smart. I think we have found that person.''

U of M president V. Lane Rawlins said the school ran extensive background checks on Calipari, and he came away impressed with Calipari after meeting with him in Atlanta in February. ``There are questions I like to ask about (academics),'' Rawlins said. ``He addressed them without my having to even ask.''

Johnson began courting Calipari back in December, first asking him about the job in general terms then going at him specifically. They spoke on the phone regularly and met in person in five cities; the deal took final shape at a restaurant in Houston on Feb. 3 when Calipari and Johnson jotted down essential terms on a restaurant napkin.

``Through this process, I have grown to trust and have a good relationship with him,'' Calipari said. ``I think it is going to be a terrific relationship and something special.''

Calipari said the next 10 days would be ``an absolute whirlwind.''

Calipari said he planned to be at the Tennessee boys state basketball tournament in Murfreesboro this week to see Tiger signees Lou Wright and Scooter McFadgon play for Raleigh-Egypt; to ``rerecruit'' current members of the U of M's team; to make a home visit to a prospect he has already targeted; and, to line up and hire a staff.

``I ask your patience because the next 10 days, I will not be very accessible,'' Calipari said. ``The first week on the job may be the most important.''

Calipari said he spent much of Saturday morning's two-hour commute to the Philadelphia airport calling high school coaches in Memphis to introduce himself. ``I called (Hamilton coach) Ted Anderson,'' he said. ``I called (White Station coach) Terry Tippett, and when I said, `This is John Calipari,' he didn't believe me. I made about 30 calls. I'll try and contact other coaches (today), and the rest I will call at their schools on Monday.''

Calipari said galvanizing the community around basketball will be a top priority.

``This isn't rebuilding,'' Calipari said. ``We want to get in here and have people excited and just get the community understanding this is their team. We will do the the best job we can representing them in a positive way and have people talking in a positive way.''

Calipari spent almost 90 minutes with the press before going to the Tiger Club room to meet with the general public. A crowd of about 1,000 packed the room, with people lined up outside in the cold waiting to get in.

Additional coverage from The Commercial Appeal
``I am excited about this and I want to do this,'' Calipari said. ``Something kept telling me this is the right thing to do.''

``I'd like to see (his daughters) through high school before I move,'' Calipari said. ``Ellen and I talked about it at length. It's not about money. It's about what's right for our family and what's right for my daughters.

``We had to move once, from Massachusetts to the Nets, and I just don't feel comfortable every three years moving my family and what that would do to them.''


Most rave about Calipari, despite the baggage
By Ron Higgins, The Commercial Appeal, 3/5/2000

If John Calipari is the next basketball coach at the University of Memphis . . .

"He'll impact not just the school but the community," said Bob Marcum, University of Massachusetts's athletic director who was Calipari's boss. "He'll give you far more than what you expect out of a basketball coach."

"Memphis is lucky to get a guy like Cal - he'll bring in some big-time players and he'll shock the world," said Sam Cassell, who played for Calipari with the NBA's New Jersey Nets. "Cal's the man."

"John better understand that Elvis will always be the old king in Memphis, but he's going to be the new king," ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale said. "I don't care if you pay him $5, $10 or $10 million. The guy is a flat-out workaholic."

But is a guy who has never won an NCAA championship, someone who was fired just 20 games into his third season with the Nets, worth a reported $1 million per year offer from the U of M?

Just about everyone in national basketball circles says yes, although he has some baggage. They say Calipari, 41 and now a Philadelphia 76ers assistant who's being paid $6 million by the Nets not to coach, is worth the investment.

They point to his eight-year resuscitation from 1988 to 1996 of a downtrodden Massachusetts program puttering along with substandard facilities and a tight budget.

By the time he left for the Nets following UMass's '96 35-2 run to a Final Four semifinal loss to eventual champion Kentucky, his record was 193-71, and the Minutemen had won five straight Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season and tournament championships leading to five NCAA tourney bids. Enrollment and donations had increased dramatically.

Even during his brief 21/2-year stay with the Nets from 1996-1999 he turned a perennial Atlantic Division doormat into a second-place team.

"John is a guy who is a national coach," said 76ers head coach Larry Brown, who guided Kansas to the 1988 NCAA title and who has coached seven professional teams in 21 seasons. "He did probably as good a coaching job as anyone has ever done in our sport at UMass."

Lifelong friends of Calipari say he was born to coach. He lived 30 yards from his high school gym in Moon, Pa., 25 miles outside of Pittsburgh.

By the time he headed off to college at North Carolina-Wilmington - he stayed two years before finishing at Clarion (Pa.) State where he graduated in marketing in 1982 - he was coaching at the prestigious Five-Star summer camp. Camp director Howard Garfinkel was impressed enough to allow Calipari to coach high school prospects virtually his own age.

Some of Calipari's older fellow counselors and teachers included coaching legends Rick Pitino, Hubie Brown, Chuck Daly and Bobby Knight.

He got his first college coaching job at Kansas in 1982, thanks to Kansas assistant Bob Hill, who had been a University of Pittsburgh assistant when he met Calipari.

"I met John when he was a sophomore in high school; we talked about basketball that day," said Hill, who's now coaching Fordham University after a long career as an NBA head coach, assistant and TV analyst. "Coaching has always been in the back of his mind."

Calipari's rise through the coaching ranks has been meteoric. Along the way he earned a reputation as a polished recruiter, with the people skills of a veteran politician.

It took Calipari four seasons to get UMass to the NCAA tourney. Once they got there in 1992 and until Calipari left, they made it an annual trip because he simply expected it.

"Coach Cal has the highest expectation level of any coach I've ever been around," said Derek Kellogg, a former UMass starting point guard who is a Youngstown (Ohio) State assistant. "His practices were so hard - 21/2 hours of nonstop intensity - that games seemed easy.

"We were never surprised in games. Late in tight games we had so much confidence in anything he drew up because we'd been over that situation 100 times in practice."

Calipari, though, hasn't led a totally charmed existence.

He's been accused of everything from signing too many academically deficient recruits to turning his head when UMass all-American Marcus Camby accepted cash, clothes, jewelry and prostitutes from two agents.

Marcum defended Calipari's recruiting. Much of the criticism surrounded the recruitment of Lou Roe and Donta Bright, two starters who keyed NCAA tournament runs. Bright was the only McDonald's all-American Calipari recruited at UMass.

Both had to pass standardized tests in early summer just before enrolling to become eligible. Other schools had backed away from them, but not Calipari. He sold the fact that UMass had one of the best learning-disabled programs in the country.

"We only had two athletes who were partial academic qualifiers in all of our sports when John was here," Marcum said. "We graduated our players (70 percent in basketball). John even helped with the tuition of two players who wanted to come back and get their degree after he left."

Rival recruiters said Calipari used underhanded recruiting tactics.

As an assistant for Pittsburgh in a Big East Conference battle for prized recruit Marvin Branch, Calipari was accused of telling Branch that St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca was dying. Calipari denied it, and Carnesecca eventually believed him.

"I wouldn't call John a cutthroat recruiter," Hill said. "But he is a competitor. He'll do what it takes to win."

Calipari jumped to the Nets just as the sordid details of Camby's story were revealed, but Calipari insisted the timing was coincidental.

Agent John Lounsbury of Wolcott, Conn., said he gave Camby more than $40,000 in cash and gifts between December 1994 and March 1996.

Wesley Spears, a lawyer in Hartford, gave money and rental cars, and set up Camby and friends with prostitutes.

Camby admitted in a police statement almost all the allegations were true, after signing with ProServ, a management group.

Calipari, in his autobiography Refuse to Lose, said the stories about Camby "came as a surprise . . . he never had a car, he never lived off-campus, he wore jeans and sweat suits most of the time."

Marcum said Camby's problem wasn't a reflection of the program.

"Because of what happened to Camby I think people thought we had a fleet of cars for our players," Marcum said.

"When I got here I thought for a program that had obtained such a high national ranking that it had the least amount of affluence I've ever witnessed. Only two players had cars and every player lived in the dorm."

For Camby's transgressions UMass was stripped of its Final Four finish, the school's best ever, and the school had to return $151,000 in tournament money. All four '96 tourney victories were forfeited and the Final Four trophy was ordered returned to the NCAA.

Camby, after signing his first pro contract worth $8.4 million, repaid the lost NCAA tourney revenue with donations to the UMass education department and health services division.

Calipari also was accused of taking a slogan "Refuse to Lose" from the UMass football team, trademarking the motto and reaping at least six-figure royalty figures. The Boston Globe reported in July 1996 that Calipari used David Glover, a basketball academic adviser, to market the slogan by making at least 200 long-distance calls at the school's expense.

Calipari said he bought the slogan from a Duke women's tennis coach. Former UMass football coach Jim Reid said his team was the first at the school to originate the slogan.

"Football never had that slogan," Marcum said, noting Calipari gave $20,000 of the money to the UMass library.

Marcum, who calls Calipari "a self-generator who makes a lot of money and sees nothing wrong with that," wasn't surprised he jumped to the Nets because "I always knew he'd go if he hit the lottery."

Before Calipari signed a five-year, $15 million deal with the Nets that also gave him control of personnel decisions, Hill tried to advise him about NBA life.

"In college you have more practice time and more time to build relationships with players to help them with their games and their roles in society," Hill said. "In the pros the players have their own lives and agendas.

"When I got in the NBA it was as an assistant to Hubie Brown. He helped with everything. John didn't have anyone. He may have had too many responsibilities. I do think he laid a nice foundation before things fell apart."

Calipari was 72-115 in 2 ? seasons with the Nets, being fired after a 3-17 start in last year's strike-shortened season.

He went from 26-56 and a fifth-place finish in the Atlantic Division his first year, to 43-39 in his second season with a second-place finish and the team's first playoff appearance since 1993-94.

So why did he get fired?

Rumblings were that Calipari tried to incorporate his rah-rah college style, and it didn't agree with most veterans.

Nets forward Jayson Williams, who had two of his best pro seasons under Calipari, criticized Calipari in an article in GQ just before Calipari's second season.

Some biting excerpts:

Williams declined to be interviewed for this article, as did Nets general manager John Nash.

Cassell had no problem talking about Calipari. He said that Calipari got fired because Cassell got hurt, couldn't play and no one stepped up to take his place as the team went into a nosedive.

"Cal put us in position to make strides," Cassell said. "The Nets miss Cal to this day. He turned it into a first-class organization in one year."

Calipari's coaching pals said he became an even better coach in the NBA, but is suited for the college game because he loves to teach and motivate.

"The college game is a fit for him and his family," said Nevada-Las Vegas coach Bill Bayno, who was a Calipari assistant at UMass.


For or against him, he'll get under your skin
50 facts about Calipari
By Geoff Calkins, The Commercial Appeal Sports Columnist, 2/27/2000

So you're excited about John Calipari. So you can't get enough of the guy. Well, then, without further ado, 50 - 50! - things you might not know about the man who could be the next coach of the University of Memphis Tigers:

1. He once tried to put oil in his car through the tiny hole that holds the dipstick.

2. His son, Bradley, weighed a whopping 10 pounds, 7 ounces at birth.

3. In Amherst, Mass., he had a clothing store called Cal's Corner.

4. At D.P. Dough, an Amherst shop that sold calzones, they named one after the coach. The Cal-Zone.

5. He appeared on 12 different pages in his high school yearbook.

6. Bob Ryan, columnist at the Boston Globe, calls him ``a lovable rogue.''

7. Calipari once said of himself, ``I am who I am. I'm not a perfect human being, by any means. I have a lot of flaws.''

8. Growing up in Moon, Pa., he dreamt of being Fran Tarkenton. Then he showed up for his first day of grade-school football. And broke his collarbone.

9. At the University of Massachusetts, he had a clause in his contract providing that he could get a percentage of gate receipts for one game each season.

10. Jayson Williams, the Nets forward, once said this about him: ``Cal likes to beat everybody. If Cal was playing poker against his grandmother, he'd peek at her cards to beat her.''

11. Calipari met his wife, Ellen, while he was an assistant at Kansas. She was a secretary in the athletic business office.

12. His final year at UMass, 1995-96, he played an out-of-conference schedule that included (deep breath, here) Kentucky, Florida, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Memphis and Louisville.

13. His father, Vincent, was a fueler at the Pittsburgh airport. He never made more than $16,000 a year.

14. Calipari likes shoes. Why? ``I never had many when I was growing up. This makes up for the two pairs I had for the first 17 years of my life.''

15. When Calipari was hired by the New Jersey Nets, the team president, Michael Rowe, said this: ``We think that people are going to look back at this decision in five years and think this was a genius move.''

16. A couple years later, Rowe said this: ``He has a style that players don't like.''

17. While he was at UMass, Calipari donated $20,000 to the school's library.

18. For ESPN games at UMass, he'd wear a suit and tie. For ESPN2 games, he'd wear slacks and a turtleneck.

19. In high school, he used to sneak into the gym using a comb to pop the lock. William Scherer - the original Rip, and the Memphis football coach's father - was the athletic director.

``(Scherer) would come to my door and say, `He's in the gym shooting,' '' said Bill Sacco, Calipari's high school coach. ``I'd say, Geez, Rip, he's not doing anything wrong.''

20. Calipari once explained why he prefers college coaching to pro coaching this way: ``You don't have the family atmosphere around a program in the pros like you do in college.''

21. Calipari once explained why he prefers pro coaching to college coaching this way: ``Here's why. Back at UMass, I'm on the road recruiting, and there's an emergency call from a player. I know I can't get to him right away, so for three gut-wrenching hours, I'm torturing myself, wondering. Finally, I get the kid. He says to me, `Coach, do you mind if I miss my workout tomorrow. I gotta get a haircut.' ''

22. Although Calipari and Rick Pitino are seen as flip sides of the same coin, Pitino once said of them: ``We were never buddy-buddy. That's the strangest thing about it. We never did hang out socially.''

23. The phrase ``Refuse to Lose'' was first used at UMass by the football team. But Calipari trademarked the slogan and made a fortune. Said Jim Reid, the football coach: ``We talked about that theme during the season. But we were never smart enough to copyright it or get rich off it.''

24. When Calipari was very small, his mother, Donna, took him to see President Kennedy's train go by. When they got home, she told him. ``You can be anything, even president.''

25. Calipari was president of his senior class in high school. Also, captain of the basketball team. Also, king of the prom.

26. John Chaney, the Temple coach, once threatened to kill Calipari. At the time, UMass had won six of eight against Temple.

27. When Calipari was with the Nets, he called Dan Garcia, a reporter with the Newark Star-Ledger, a ``bleeping Mexican idiot.'' Calipari said it was a joke. David Stern and the NBA fined him $25,000.

28. Garcia sued Calipari for emotional distress. The suit was dismissed. Then, the dismissal was upheld by an appeals court which ruled that while the remarks were ``degrading and nasty'' they were ``mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, petty oppressions or other trivialities for which there is no liability.''

29. Before Calipari, UMass had not had a winning record in 10 years. The phones were rotary dials. The chairs the team sat in during games said ``Property of the biology department.''

30. Calipari had a record of 193-71 at UMass, with two NIT and five NCAA appearances.

31. Said Maryland coach Gary Williams: ``I love the way they play. They're so together.''

32. Calipari was a point guard at Clarion where, after breaking his cheekbone, he once played wearing a wrestler's mask.

33. When he was fired from the New Jersey Nets, he said this about his next stop: ``I don't mind rebuilding, but I want to be in the right situation that's a good match and a good fit. I don't want to put myself in a bad position. I want to win the whole thing. I wouldn't be happy in a second-tier situation.''

34. Calipari's wife is from Missouri. When her parents heard about the Memphis job, they reportedly drove from their home to Memphis to see how long the drive would take. The answer: Three hours.

35. Calipari's first salary at UMass was $68,000.

36. He'll make $3 million from the Nets this year. Next year, too.

37. Sacco, his high school coach, once said of Calipari: ``I can introduce him to 1,000 people and he'd remember 1,000 people's names.''

38. Jersey Red, a friend, once said of Calipari: ``John is - how can I be fair, because I love John - John's a jackal. A competitive jackal. Is that a better way of putting it? But a wonderful man.''

39. While Calipari was at UMass, alumni clubs grew from eight to more than 60.

40. Out of state applications were up 40 percent.

41. Said UMass player Lou Roe: ``He's the most inspirational person I've ever been around.''

42. Said recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons: ``He took the road less traveled. He's a smart basketball coach who beat the system with guys who wouldn't be admitted into other schools.''

43. In 1995, the Boston Globe did a story that said seven of Calipari's players were on academic warning or probation, including four starters.

44. A year later, eight of Calipari's players had a 3.0 average or above. Said Marcus Camby: ``I got a 3.2. And you can quote me.''

45. When interviewing for the UMass job, Calipari dispatched his friends to spread a false rumor that he had blown the interview and was out of the running. Why? ``If you're a front-runner in this profession, you take shots,'' Calipari explained. ``You know if you're out there, you'll get whacked. You say it was deception, but . . . ''

46. When Camby collapsed before a conference game against St. Bonaventure, Calipari rode with him to the hospital. He left the coaching to his assistant.

47. Said Sam Cassell of the Nets: ``Cal is the perfect player's coach.''

48. Said Lou Roe of UMass: ``He was the type of guy, by the time he finished talking to you, you wanted to get up and work your butt off. He's the main reason I became the player I was at UMass. When I had doubts, he made me believe.''

49. Said the Nets Robert Pack: ``When you make a mistake, it's a constant diet of yelling and cursing. And you're out there, a grown man, and he's screaming at you like a child."

50. When Calipari was fired by the Nets, someone asked him why he seemed so philosphical. This is what he said: ``You know, people ask me all the time why I'm not more bitter. My wife, she asks me all the time, `Why doesn't this bother you more?'

``But the thing is, I'll land somewhere, somewhere great. And when I get there, when I start over at another place, this is all going to seem like just another bump in the road.''


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