This post is simply to show that Coach Cal was not that bad of an NBA coach and that his time in the NBA was far more successful than is perceived. But it is certainly not trying to say that Cal should go to the NBA. Because that would just be dumb.
“Coach Cal should never go to the NBA. He already failed there once, why go back?”
We’ve heard that so many times from both “experts” and fans of other schools, and even to an extent our own fanbase, to try and justify keeping Coach Cal in Lexington. And trust me, I want him to stay as long as possible. But, I am one who believes in getting the facts straight and assessing things in perspective, and when it comes to Cal’s time in the NBA, perspective has been lost. Take a look at Coach Cal’s 2 1/2 seasons with the Nets:
Season before Calipari arrived: 30-52
1st season: 26-56 (4 game decline)
–Cal had a depleted roster in his first year with the Nets, but after the season the team aquired Keith Van Horn, who people forget was a top level player during this time in the NBA.
2nd season: 43-39 (17 game increase, made playoffs)
-Now with a roster made up of good NBA players, the Nets make it to the playoffs and lose to the Bulls in 3 games in the first round. Cal had the roster to succeed and gave the Nets their first winning season in 4 years.
3rd season: 3-17 (Fired)
-This was the strike shortened 50 game NBA season. The Nets brought esentially the same roster into this season that made the playoffs the past season. But then ON OPENING NIGHT, Sam Cassell went down with injury and their is no more important position in the NBA like point guard. The Nets naturally struggled to that record, ended up trading Cassell and aquiring Stephon Marbury, but they didn’t give Cal a chance to coach Marbury and fired him 2 games later.
Combined: 72-112 (39.1 win percentage, 1 PLAYOFF BERTH IN 2 SEASONS PLUS)
Point being, after getting a season under his belt, Calipari led the Nets into the playoffs, where they were beaten by the Jordan-Pippen Bulls, something I would not exactly call a disappointment. Then his starting point guard goes down in GAME ONE of the next season, and naturally things went south. Now, I am not saying that Cal should be happy with his time with the Nets, but when taken in perspective, Cal wasn’t the worst coach in the world.
Now, compare Cal’s resume with other college to pro coaches:
Rick Pitino: 102-146 (43.6 win percentage, NO PLAYOFF BERTHS IN 3 SEASONS PLUS)
Tim Floyd: 90-231 (29.0 win percentage, ONE PLAYOFF BERTH IN 5 SEASONS PLUS)
Jerry Tarkanian: 9-11 (45.0 win percentage, NO PLAYOFF BERTHS IN 0 SEASONS)
PJ Carlesimo: 204-296 (40.8 win percentage, 3 PLAYOFF BERTHS IN 6 SEASONS)
All 5 guys were fired, Carlesimo has been fired twice. Only Carlesimo made the playoffs at an equal clip as Calipari, but excluding Tarkanian (who quit), what happened to Cal was that his owner pulled the trigger on his firing quicker than the other coaches. Hell, Tim Floyd got 4 seasons with the Bulls and Pitino got 3 full seasons and then some with the Celtics. Coach Cal only got 2 full seasons with the Nets.
I am not trying to say he was great in pros, I am simply saying that you also have to admit that some freak circumstances cost him his job. He was fired with a roster comprised of Keith Van Horn and Stephon Marbury, both 20 point scorers. If given the chance to coach a full season with those players, I strongly believe he would have been successful, but the injury to Cassell was the final nail for his tenure.