I read yesterday, during my daily NCAA basketball news-gathering session (which is to say, a lecture), a somewhat upsetting “discussion” on who should win the 2012 Coach of the Year award. Surely, I thought to myself, this would be an opportunity to stroke my “Kentucky Ego” and read about our program a little more. What I found, though, did more harm to my pride than good. You can take a minute or two to read about it here if you like (relevant information located about halfway down the page).
After reviewing various writers’ lists for CoY, I noticed that Cal didn’t get higher than second on any list (John Gasaway has him listed at #2); Eamonn Brennon was the only other contributor to mention him, throwing that bronze medal his way. Among those coaches getting the most praise: Frank Haith (Missouri) and Steve Fisher (San Diego State). Listed within the praise for Haith was this gem: “There’s usually a transition period with a first-year coach, but that hasn’t been the case in Columbia.” Yes, Haith is getting serious contention for taking over a program that wasn’t doing so well, and surprising everyone by getting them ranked in the top five (and almost number one). Meanwhile, two years ago, Calipari was in his first year at UK, after taking over a team that missed the NCAA tournament and lost its leading scorer, and had the Wildcats ranked number during the start of SEC play, and in the top five or six all season. But who won that year? Jim Boeheim.
Steve Fisher, meanwhile, gets lauded for replacing a team that was left bare after its top players left. Specifically, they say: “Steve Fisher immediately and unflinchingly replaced one first-round NBA draft pick, three senior starters and the heart of last year’s team, and look at the Aztecs just one year later. Remarkable.” Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? Maybe like a guy who had five players get drafted in the first round, and still went to the Final Four the next year? You would think that that coach would win CoY, but instead, Mike Brey of Notre Dame took home the honors. Seem a little bit like a double standard?
Look, I get it, people like to think that Calipari is more a recruiter than a “game coach”, and the award should go to the coach who does more with less. But the measure of success in college basketball is not overachieving, it’s winning games. Cal has gone on an absolute tear since arriving almost three Aprils ago, and to see him not get a little recognition for that accomplishment is a little insulting. Does he care? Maybe a little bit, if at all. But I care, and frankly, I’m getting tired of it. The double standard being applied is ridiculous. Haith is such a good coach for turning around a mediocre program in a year? Cal wrote the book on quick turnarounds, co-authored by one John Wall. Fisher replaced one NBA caliber player and three seniors, and is ranked? Try five NBA players and getting to a Final Four.
Bottom line, if you don’t want to reward Calipari for what he’s done, fine. Give your awards to Steve Prohm (who actually has a good case for it this year), or whatever little-nobody-school coach seems most adorable to you, and makes you feel fuzzy for “overcoming the odds”. Rick Pitino is a good example. But please don’t try to measure other coaches who you deem more “worthy” with a measuring stick that clearly favors, and indeed seems modeled on our beloved Coach Cal. The man has been flawless for three years, and it’s about time somebody acknowledged that. Give him the Coach of the Year already, for crying out loud. Both he and his current program deserve that much.
(Yes, I’m aware that Cal won two Naismith CoY awards at UMass and Memphis. I don’t care about them. He needs to get one here. Go Cats.)