ohn Calipari wants to coach in college again -- as early as the 2000-01 season -- but only at a school that has a chance to compete for a national championship.
"If I were a betting man, then I would say I'm going to do the college thing," said Calipari, who coached Massachusetts to the 1996 Final Four. "I've got a 12, 11 and 3 year old, and you don't have the family atmosphere around a program in the pros like you do in college."
Calipari told ESPN.com that he, and his wife, Ellen, decided it would be better for their three children if he pursued a head coaching job in college, instead of another shot in the NBA.
The former New Jersey Nets head coach, an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers this season, said he has no interest in replacing his friend and mentor Larry Brown, if he decided to leave or was ever forced out as head coach of the 76ers.
"I don't want to follow Larry," Calipari said. "The only way I would is if he left on beautiful terms. But I didn't come here for that. I'm happy here, learning and having fun. I'm not worrying about the next job. I'm working at the job I have. I'm learning from one of the best coaches in the world."
Meanwhile, Calipari said he has had ongoing phone conversations with Memphis athletics director R.C. Johnson. Calipari said the calls were initiated by Johnson, but they have been limited to "chit-chats" over the holidays after a more extensive conversation last month.
Calipari said the first talk was about coaching in general and other candidates. Eventually, the conversation turned to Calipari and his interest in the position. But Calipari said he told Johnson he wouldn't talk about the Memphis head coaching position until it is determined that it is vacant.
Johnny Jones became the interim coach of the Tigers after Tic Price was forced to resign after admitting an affair with a student. Jones, a former assistant at LSU, has led the Tigers to a 7-7 record.
Memphis beat Arkansas on Monday night, typical of an erratic season. The Tigers suffered through a four-game losing streak, but beat Miami (Fla.) at home.
Sources close to Johnson said he would love to strike a deal with someone who has the name recognition of a Calipari before the end of the season. Iowa athletics director Bob Bowlsby did something similar a year ago when he had conversations with Southwest Missouri State coach Steve Alford before tabbing Alford to replace the outgoing Tom Davis at the end of both school's NCAA Tournament runs.
Calipari said speculation that he was given a Feb. 1 deadline to give Johnson a decision isn't true. But he did confirm that it would take comparable money to the NBA to lure him away from the 76ers. The fact that Johnson is talking to Calipari, even in limited form, indicates Memphis is willing to offer a substantial package to a head coach. Sources said it could take more than $500,000 to land Calipari, possibly as high as $800,000 to $900,000.
Calipari will become the hottest coaching commodity once the season ends for Memphis and other high-profile schools with head coaching vacancies. But Calipari's pool will be limited.
"I don't mind rebuilding but I want to be in the right situation that's a good match and a good fit," Calipari said. "I don't want to put myself in a bad position. I want a chance to win the whole thing. I wouldn't be happy in a second-tier situation."
Calipari served under Brown at Kansas from 1983-85 and was an assistant at Pittsburgh before taking the head coaching job at Massachusetts in 1988. He left in '97 for the Nets. He led the Nets to a third-place finish in the Atlantic Division and the playoffs in '98, ending the Nets' three-year postseason drought.
K, I'm feeling helpful.
This does not happen often. Just ask my boss. Or better yet, ask my wife.
But today is an exception. Today, I'm going to do my expenses, take out the trash, rake up the remaining leaves that have been blowing around the lawn. Also, solve the University of Memphis coaching search.
That's right, solve it. Tell everyone involved what to do the rest of the way. You can thank me when it's over.
To R.C. Johnson: Three words: Hire John Calipari.
I mean, this is easy, isn't it? Make a list of the coaches you would want to hire if you could have anyone in the world. Rick Pitino would be up there. So would Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Huggins and Roy Williams. And then, before you get much further down the list - Jim Calhoun? Tom Izzo? Nolan Richardson? - comes Calipari.
In 1988, the guy took over a UMass program that had 10 straight losing seasons. It was a crummy program in an overlooked conference. Calipari compiled a 193-71 record, took the team to two NIT and five NCAA appearances and topped things off with a 35-2 year that ended in the national semifinal game against eventual champion Kentucky.
Not only that, at a time when the state and the school were struggling financially - sound familiar? - Calipari generated enough excitement that UMass went out and built the $51 million Mullins Center.
So yeah, as decisions go R.C., this one is easier than picking which mousse to put in your hair in the morning.
The tricky part, of course, will be figuring out how long you can wait for Calipari to take the job before you turn to someone else. Even now, you have Johnny Jones supporters lining up to give testimonials. And I think that's great to see. Jones has been a happy surprise as the interim coach. If Calipari is your No. 1 choice, Jones could turn out to be No. 1B if the team continues to improve. But the best you can say about Jones is that looks like he might someday develop into a great coach. Calipari already is one.
To John Calipari: Think hard about Memphis.
Actually, I don't even need to tell you this. You're already thinking hard about Memphis. Otherwise, you wouldn't need to put up with the reporters badgering you day and night. You know how good a job this could be, even if some of your buddies on the East Coast don't quite get it.
Sure, Kansas is a better job than this one. So is UCLA. If one of those schools happens to have a coaching vacancy at the end of the year - if Roy Williams goes to North Carolina or Steve Lavin goes bye-bye - you'd be silly not to take it if offered.
But if you're weighing the Memphis job against, say, Georgia Tech, this one is better. The talent base is terrific. The Memphis half of the conference is ripe to be dominated. And you won't have to worry about playing second fiddle to Duke or North Carolina in the conference or recruiting.
Plus, Memphis is an incredibly easy place to live. Even for a Yankee. And I say this as someone who spent his first 25 years living in Buffalo and Boston.
To Johnny Jones: Keep doing what you're doing. This is going to have a happy ending for you, one way or another.
Just think, less than six months ago, you were an assistant coach, still on university probation for those NCAA quibbles. And now you have the Rebounders lobbying for you, the high school coaches throwing you parades and - best of all - the Tigers playing with a certain cohesiveness.
Frankly, you've been a revelation in all this. And by handling things so well, you've turned yourself into a viable candidate. When the search started, Memphis was casting about for guys like Henry Bibby from USC. Now? Now it wouldn't make sense to hire someone like that over you.
So keep working, keep making friends and influencing people. The odds are still less than 50-50 that Calipari will take the job. You're an intriguing option. But not if there are too many more games like Arkansas State and Saint Louis.
To Memphis fans: Don't worry. Be happy.
The other day, I heard from someone who said they'd seen Calipari having breakfast at the Blue Plate. That's right. The Blue Plate. Here in Memphis.
Well, I called the Blue Plate. And the proprietor told me it wasn't Calipari, it was - honest, this is what he said - Dana Kirk. But in the heat of a coaching search, this kind of thing can happen. One coach kinda morphs into another.
The point is, coaching searches are fun, aren't they? The buzz. The rumors. The whole tangled business. And they are even more fun when the program is in demand the way this one seems to be.
Sometimes, we fret about the future. Sometimes, we forget that the job is as good as it is. But then we see Calipari thinking about it, and Jones trying to prove himself worthy of it and we're reminded, hey, maybe we've got something here.
So don't worry. Be happy. And if you really do see Calipari at the Blue Plate, do me a favor, won't you?
To reach columnist Geoff Calkins, call 529-2364; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
he University of Memphis and John Calipari seem to be inching closer to one another.
But choosing a basketball coach for next season apparently will not proceed until athletic director R.C. Johnson decides about interim coach Johnny Jones.
Calipari, a 76ers assistant under Larry Brown, did not back away from an ESPN.com report that Calipari is the university's top choice for the job.
Calipari confirmed he has had additional discussions with athletic director R.C. Johnson, the former Temple athletic director.
"They've talked some things to me, but I couldn't make a decision about something like that until I saw the campus, and I don't know when that will be," said Calipari, who coached the New Jersey Nets in 1997-98, then was fired after the first 20 games of last season's post-lockout schedule.
"There are no plans for me to visit at this point," he said. "Once [Jones] knows where he stands, then it would be different. I don't want to be in the position of talking about someone else's job."
Calipari also said he has no interest in coaching at Georgia Tech, where good friend Bobby Cremins said yesterday he would leave after this season.
"I called Bobby to tell him that I wasn't interested, because I had heard my name being thrown around down there," Calipari said. "We've been friends a long time, and I wanted him to know that wasn't my doing, that I wouldn't be involved."
Calipari said his interest in Memphis didn't necessarily mean he had no interest in coaching in the NBA again.
"I'm interested in Memphis, because it's an opportunity that's being thrown at me," he said. "I owe it to my family to look at it . . .I just want to be a coach, to enjoy it, to do it with passion and enthusiasm."